Lake Garda (Lago di Garda): Where Parents can take a REAL Vacation

7.26_garda coverYou’ve seen this, right?  Is it a vacation or a trip?  Hilarious.  And true.

For the most part, I take a lot of trips.  I’m OK with that.  I’ve got a lot I’d like to see.  In the little kid years, I figured I’d be looking at trips instead of relaxing vacations anyway.

But what if I told you about a magical place where you could have an actual vacation?  A vacation where you could linger over your breakfast coffee admiring the beautiful view.  A vacation where you kept forgetting what day it is because you felt fully disconnected.  A vacation where you could finish a sentence talking to your spouse over a delicious dinner.

You’d say it was all too good to be true, right?

Well, harried friend, let me tell you about Lake Garda.

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My favorite restaurant, every other time: Antica Enoteca

Ah, Antica Enoteca.  I just can’t quit you.  Things are so good.  And then they are meh.  But then you come around again.  It’s really every other time.

#1  My first trip, I was skeptical.  We sat outside, right beside an American couple, where duder asked for ice I swear four different times.  I’m not anti-tourist and definitely not anti-‘Merican, but I do use this as a proxy for restaurant expectation.  But then the pasta came.  I got carciofi with guanciale (artichoke with pork cheek) and James did his usual amatriciana.

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Best pasta I’ve had yet in Rome.  Full stop.  Mic drop.

#2  Our friends came into town after Christmas.  Other friends here graciously agreed to babysit.  W00t!  Big night out.  Instead of trying somewhere new, I decided to play it safe and revisit a sure thing.  See, here, you can easily get an amazing meal, but it is also easy to get a meh meal.

Antica was packed!  Luckily, we had a reservation, but we still had to wait a bit.  This was no hardship because I discovered Antica has London Pride on tap.  As someone who is always on the hunt for hops, this was a pretty awesome pre-dinner drink.  Also, the bar is very cool looking, like too cool for me to be hanging out there, and it was big night out w00t!

Once we sat, I ordered the same pasta.  This was admittedly a risky strategy.  Either you know you are getting something great or you are getting something that can never live up to the memory.  Sadly, my experience was the latter.  It was definitely good.  Our friends liked their food.  But it was not the best pasta I’ve had in Rome.  Womp womp.


#3  Undeterred by the minor setback, we took my mom during her visit in February.  I learned my lesson and stayed away from the carciofi/guanciale masterpiece of my memories.  But my mom didn’t.  She let me try hers.  Best pasta ever again!  I was a little remorseful, but I consoled myself with my gnocchi that was also stupid good.

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#4  Feeling uncreative and thinking pasta plus a pre-dinner London Pride sounded like a good idea, James and I ended up back at Antica on a date night.  This time the experience was actually kind of bad.  They were out of London Pride, but they didn’t mention that until they brought a substitute.  He offered to swap it if we didn’t like it, but not that helpful . . .  The service was really slow.  And when we got our pasta, it was just ok.  Better than what I can make at home, but nothing to write home about.  Boo.

So there you have it.  I’m hesitant to give you a glowing recommendation because I just don’t know which Antica you will get.  Will it be the pasta dreams are made of or just an average plate of blah?

I can say that Antica has a solid wine-by-the glass selection and some very good charcuterie.  Even if you don’t opt to try the pasta, I’d definitely suggest grabbing a seat and a snack at the bar.  If you are feeling burnt out on Italian wine, you could even get a London Pride.  Most of the time.

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Antica Enoteca
Via della Croce, 76/b Roma

What makes your favorite restaurant your fave?  Would you forgive them for some uneven quality issues or are they dead to you forever?

I crossed the river into the land of beer

Don’t get me wrong.  I heart Italian wine.  Right now I’m loving all the big, meaty reds.  When it warms up outside, I’ll be ready to return to the world of whites and start a hunt for my favorite prosecco.  (Not that I haven’t gotten a head start on that.)

But I do miss beer.  Specifically, hops-for-days beers that no beer connoisseur would describe as well-balanced.  Balance, pfft.  Why have balance when you can have MORE HOPS.

We did have some luck at Open Baladin last fall.  Now we embarked on a journey across the river in hunt of more beer.

When I say “crossed the river,” I do not mean the metaphorical river.  We actually walked across it.  I mean, on a bridge of course.  This one.

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This was our first foray into Trastevere, an area of the city where the “Romanest of Romans live” according to my sources.  Our first trip, but definitely not the last.

But first a quick Italian pronunciation guide so you don’t go around mispronouncing Trastevere for ages *cough cough* like I did.  Two rules should apply, but alas, an exception I do not yet understand tripped me up.

First, all pieces of words are pronounced in Italian.  This means there is no silent “e” at the end of a word.  Limone (lemon) is Lee-moh-neh.

Second, words are accented on the penultimate syllable.  Carrying through our example, you pronounce lemon, lee-MOH-neh.

Good so far?  So for Trastevere, a word that is literally beyond/across/over the Tevere (Tiber), you pronounce the “e” on the end to make it Tras-teh-ver-eh.

Looking at the penultimate syllable rule, you would think it would be Tras-teh-VER-eh.  But do not be fooled!!  It is Tras-TEH-ver-eh.  Alas, I can give you no explanation.  James even asked his Italian teacher, but she couldn’t give a reason.

Point of the story, I thought I was all “hey I know Italian grammar and I can pronounce words,” when actually I sounded like a dummy.  Learn from my mistake.  #dontsoundlikeadummy Tras-TEH-ver-eh.

Trastevere was very adorable, but we didn’t poke around much.  Our destination, Bir and Fud, was just a hop, skip, and jump from the river.  We walked in and found this sleek bar.  Ah, look at that row of glorious taps.  It wasn’t crazy crowded when we were there, but friends warned us you can’t walk through at all when it fills up.  I believe it.

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Behind the bar is a restaurant with tightly knit tables.  I was glad we had a reservation.

The beer list was not small, but not overwhelming either.  Plenty of Italian beers, but plenty that weren’t.  All beers, 5 euro.  I ordered a Spaceman from Brewfist and wondered if I might actually have a legitimate reason to call it a Spa-CHEM-inSee earlier pronunciation guide.  The beer was hoppy and delicious.

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To accompany the beer, we got garlic & pecorino chips and prosciutto & mozzarella.  All delicious, but I think my pores oozed garlic for a week.

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We split a pizza, which they conveniently pre-split for us.  I was glad we split.  That’s a big pizza.

For some reason, I was fascinated that James has a very methodical pizza cutting and eating technique.  For me, I usually just attack the thing with a fork and knife all willy-nilly.  Cut a random piece here, random piece there.  Pizza in mouth is the only goal.  I don’t think this will change if I eat 5000 more pizzas.  James, however, did a precision strike that you could tell was honed from practiced pizza eating.  It was sort of impressive to behold.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  The man does love pizza.  #pizzasurgeon

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If I had any knock against Bir & Fud, it would simply be that they seemed to be out of a lot of things.  We tried to order an appetizer from their specials list, something involving fried mozzarella and hot sauce.  Out.  For our second round of beer, we both struck out.  I don’t know if this is typical, and it wasn’t such a big deal because they had plenty of other great things to choose from, but we did seem to be hearing that they were out of things quite a bit.

After dinner, we went across the street to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa, which my sources tell me translates to “But what did you come here for?” or “What the hell did you come here for?”  This was a cozy, wood-paneled hole in the wall with an impressive tap selection.  Beers were 6 euro to drink inside or 4 euro to drink outside in a plastic cup.  I chose an Italian IPA that was a little too balanced for my taste, but not bad.

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All in all, I considered it a most successful first foray across the river.  It felt like–for just a few hours at least–we were back with our people.  Beer people.  I’ll just have to console myself with incredible Italian wines that are a fraction of the cost of what you can get them for stateside.  Poor me.  (Winking angel face.)


Hot drinks for cold days

Now we’re in it.  January and February are pretty bleak.  Christmas cheer has been packed up.  Things can be a bit dreary.  Back home, March is usually just as bad, which is even worse for me because I stubbornly continue to think it should be warm.  March, that should be spring, right?  WRONG, YOU GET A SNOWSTORM.  Hope that parka goes with your Easter ensem!

Things in Rome have been downright balmy compared to DC.  The weather claims the highs are close to 60.  I guess I can’t argue with the weather reporting professionals, but it doesn’t feel like 60.  40s and 50s, yes.  It is a damp cold, but the teens it is not.  Huzzah.

In case you are experiencing mega-cold let’s-build-a-fire type weather, consider these toasty Christmas market inspired drinks to warm you right up.  These drinks were great for walking the markets in Germany.  I think they would also be awesome on a chilly evening tucked up with a blanket.  You don’t even have to worry about paying extra for your cup deposit (pfand) and remembering to get your money back!


Mulled wine is a staple at Christmas markets.  You can find both white and red, but I’m all about that red.  There are about a million recipes online and I can’t claim to have found the best one, but you are probably looking at some combo of wine, cloves, sugar, and orange.

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If you like your gluhwein with a little more flair, consider trying a . . .


With a little help from wikipedia, I can tell you that this fun-to-pronounce drink involves a run-soaked sugar loaf being set on fire and dripped into gluhwein.  The main difference in the markets seems to be that feuerzangenbowle, aka fire-tongs punch, stands are usually covered with flames and fire.

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We tried it.  It was tasty.  I didn’t notice a huge difference from traditional gluhwein.  I was disappointed that nothing was lit on fire in front of me.

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The problem with gluhwein is that it can feel a little too Christmas-y.  If you want to mix up your flavors, allow me to recommend . . .

Fruity Gluhwein

In Nuremberg, we enjoyed some heidelbeer gluhwein.  Heidelbeer doesn’t exactly translate to something in the U.S.; it seems to basically be a European blueberry.  James and I ended up liking this a lot.  You could really taste the fruit.  I think this could be great with blueberry wine, strawberry wine, or any wine your grandmother would probably be really into.  I’m looking at you Manischewitz.

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If you are over hot wine, why not try a . . .

Hot Coconut

We got this on our trip to Tollwood.  I’m not translating here.  We literally ordered the “hot coconut.”  It was served in a half coconut bowl that I forgot to take a picture of.  I’m pretty sure it was just rum and coconut milk heated.  I’ve tried googling to confirm, but all sorts of delicious and more complicated recipes come up.  These sound pretty incredible if you have the time and inclination, but I’m pretty sure hot run and coconut milk together would be a simple win.

I would NOT, however, recommend that you try . . .


That’s right.  I tried hot beer.  The descriptions sounded amazing.  Beer with additions of vanilla and caramel flavors.  Beer with orange.  James and I both got a different flavor.

Yeeaah, it was still hot beer.  It is not something I would recommend.  I like the concept.  Hated the execution.

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We also tried the Stachelbier.  For this one, they put a hot poker into a cold beer, with the goal of creating hot foam.  The point is then to enjoy the hot foam with cold beer.  It was. . . interesting?  There was definitely hot foam on the beer.  I would not say it created any sort of unique flavor experience, but I’m glad we tried it.

And for the kiddos . . .


That’s right, zee Germans serve a hot punch for kids that looks like they are swigging hot wine along with everyone else.  We only got this once for Henry because it was HOT and there was the mess factor.  Henry can report that he really enjoys french fries dipped in his kinderpunsch.  Also, this is not a hot one, but Henry put a hurting on some apfelschorle, a carbonated apple drink, during the trip.

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Want to elevate your market-inspired drink experience?  Try these authentic market munchies.

Is it super cold where you are?  Do you have any favorite drinks to warm up by the fireside?  Do you have a fireside?  If so, I am definitely jealous!

Restaurant Review: Open Baladin

I have been drinking wine.  I’ve had some amazing wines.  I’ve had some meh wines.  But wine has certainly been had.

Sadly, I cannot say the same for beer.  As I mentioned here, I’ve been disappointed by the beer situation so far.  Granted, we haven’t tried very much.  This is mostly because the beer at the grocery store looks like a light lager fest.  And I’m not hating on light lagers, but there is a time and place.  James finally found a German Helles and it was an almost spiritual moment.

To address this situation, on a recent date night we headed to Open Baladin.  It is the Roman outpost of the Italian brewery, Baladin.  Open Baladin opened in 2009, but Baladin has been brewing since 1996.  We knew going in that they have more than 40 draft beers and supposedly decent burgers.

The place is close to Largo di Torre Argentina (which totally did not have any cats when we walked by.  WHAT??)  It was tucked in off a side street where I may have asked James if he was taking me somewhere to murder me.  But we found it.  We walked in.  We saw this.  Angels sang.  It was glorious.

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The extra cool thing about Baladin is that they serve their beers alongside other Italian microbrews.  No tasters though.  All draft beers are served in 33 cl sizes and cost 5 euro.

The place was definitely hopping, but we didn’t have trouble getting a table.  In what seems to be a trend, we were sat at a table with a “reserved” sign even though we did not have a reservation.  (James tried by phone earlier, but it seems they don’t do reservations for two people.  Although the first thing they asked us coming in was whether we had a reservation. Go figure.)

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You know that thing when you eat out where one person is the winner and one person is the loser?  Meaning someone’s food is always better than someone’s elses?  If you have multiple courses, you may be able to redeem a disappointing starter.

Here, we had three beers each and burgers.  James definitely “won” this restaurant.  Luckily we both won on these homemade garlic and pecorino chips.



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The ketchup was basically tomato paste.

I had the “singing in the rain” burger which sounded yummy, but I thought it was too red peppery.  James had something with cheese, eggplant, and other stuff which was very delicious.  The burgers were not quite like home, but definitely the best I’ve had around here.  Which isn’t saying much; I’m not really out sampling many burgers.  (Two months in and no trips to McDonald’s yet!)

And on to the beers.  I was disappointed to learn that they were out of my first choice, Follower IPA from Vento Forte.  I was out for hops.  ALL THE HOPS.  (Luppoli = hops.  Luppolata = hopped.)  I substituted with a TSO from Casa di Cura.  It was ok.  Certainly a drinkable beer, but nowhere near the punch-you-in-the-face hops I was hoping for.  James had a Gerica, a lager from Birrone.  It was described in the menu as when the Germans met the Americans.  It was excellent.  Some German sensibilities with American hops.  This was probably my favorite beer of the night.  I would have gotten more of it, but there was no time.  So many beers to try!

Up next, I got one of Baladin’s Opens.  It seemed appropriate given the location.  It was described as a pale ale, but it just tasted a bit off.  James got an espresso-flavored stout.  It was at the suggestion of our waitress, and I was never certain on the name.  It was pretty good.  Very drinkable.  Good for the cooler weather.

To finish, I joked with James that I would get him one of the Belgian beers.  “Haha, like maybe I’ll get you a ‘Triplica Special Edition,’  (from Opperbacco) wait that actually sounds good, I’m getting it.”  It came in a fancy Belgian glass.  I don’t know if I would get it again, but it had nice hops and nice flavor.  It was good for me to end the night with.  James got Baladin’s Nina on cask.  It was smooth.  Kind of creamy.  It didn’t taste super ESB-y as described, but I recall that it was decent.  This round was probably a draw.  I think we were both happier with what we got.

Even with my “loss,” it was a great night.  Considering all of the people there, service was shockingly good.  Like beer came faster than if I had been sitting at the bar and watching the bartender pour it.  Many other restaurants are on our list, but I’m sure we’ll be back.  The siren song of the hops is a strong one.

Wine tweets (Vol. 2): What I’ve been drinking*

*Descriptions from a wine/beer lover who is really bad at talking about it

Want more wine tweets? See here.

The good

The good

Starting on the left, the Toscana was one James let Henry pick out at the grocery store.  Natch, he went with the red lion.  This was medium-bodied.  It was just ok.  Definitely drinkable, but it didn’t have the rich mouth feel I wanted.  #notreallyspecial #toddlersommelierfail

We had the neighbors over for drinks after the kiddos went to bed.  You know the cool, lived-all-over-the-world, no kids neighbors?  They brought this wine.  Of course, it was amazing.  They claim it was a grocery store find, but I haven’t tracked it down yet.  Smooth, inky, delicious.  #wontyoubemyneighbor

This Dolcetto d’Alba is my favorite Dolcetto yet.  I think.  We had two in close succession.  One was outstanding, the other was meh.  James claims this was the good one, but I’ll need to track down another bottle to see.  If it IS the good one, it is medium, fruity, good mouth feel.  Everything you’d want in your dolcetto.  #everyday #versatile

The Teroldego on the right is one of my new faves.  Another super cheap grocery store find.  James tells me I can’t get this in the U.S. so I should not get too attached.  Another smooth wine with a great mouth feel.  (Noticing a trend here?)  #repeatbuy #mustimportteroldego

The OK

The OK

The Est! Est!! Est!!!, from a region with a charming back story, was Italian adequate.  Meaning good, drinkable, but a little forgettable.  I think this one was on the fruitier end of the spectrum.  #enjoyedbutnotblownaway

The Frascati is one of the rare local wines.  The only word that really came to mind for this one is “light.”  It wasn’t very sweet, very fruity, or very dry.  It was just pretty light.  This sounds underwhelming, I know, but it wasn’t bad.  Definitely a refreshing wine to drink when it is hot out.  #summer #laziolocal

I had high hopes for this one because I am a sucker for bottle art.  In the end, I was disappointed, but mostly because of expectations.  I thought it would be on the light and fruity side, but it was more like chardonnay.  And I was not in the mood for chardonnay that day.  As far as chardonnay-ish wines go, it was ok.  I thought it improved on the second day.  James thought it got worse.  #thelobsterledmeastray

The ugly

The ugly

Which brings us to the lone beer of the group.  Hats off to the folks at nabiretta for making beer in Italy, but I was really disappointed.  This one started off ok, but went all wrong as you swallowed.  I wouldn’t call it homebrew-y because that would be an insult to homebrewers.  Of course, I was disappointed by the lack of hops, but the malt just tasted off.  #didnotfinish

P.S. I’m not off my whole30; it just takes me that long to get around to writing these up.


What is your personal Snickers?

The rest of our stuff should be showing up in the next week or so.  We did a pretty good job packing.  I really haven’t felt deprived.  But of this collection, I am most excited to see:

  • The kitchen trashcan.  Our place came with a trashcan.  It has a step on lid that doesn’t really work.  The bag doesn’t really stay on.  And it is so very small.  It looks like a bathroom can.  Even with mandatory recycling, I feel like the thing fills up every time I blink.  Frequent emptying is probably a good thing given the lack of garbage disposal, but it currently seems a little ridiculous.
  • Tissues.  I also miss nice toilet paper, but I can’t remember if I packed any.  The pipes are so old here that Italy has just decided not to let people have quality paper products.  (My working theory anyway.)  Years ago I had a household ban on tissues.  Why bother if you can just use TP?  And then I rediscovered the pillowy softness of a high quality tissue as it caresses your nose and have not looked back.  Surely there are tissues here somewhere.  I’m just having trouble finding them.
  • The boys’ cribs.  We have loaner cribs right now.  These have been perfectly adequate, but they have bars instead of our chunky slats.  I feel like there has been more pacifier escapage.  The loaner mattresses are so thin you could probably fold them in quarters.  This has made changing sheets easy, but I’ll be glad when they have their nicer mattresses back.

Someone told me that when their daughter was in Italy, she craved Snickers but couldn’t find them.  So her mom would send care packages with Snickers.  I totally get missing things, but Snickers surprised me.  This is the land of chocolate and gelato!  I may have an unhealthy relationship with Kinder Chocolate that I have been indulging.

But now that I’ve been here for a bit, I’ve had a chance to think about what may own “personal Snickers” is.  I do have a few.  Unlike the above, these things are not showing up with our stuff.  Many of them couldn’t come even if I wanted them to.

Grocery delivery.  In the year before leaving DC, we converted to Relay Foods disciples and never looked back.  Before, we had been doing double grocery store duty at the local Giant and then Whole Foods to get the nice meats.  Enter Relay Foods.  They would deliver Whole Foods/farmers’ market quality food right to my front door.  Granted, you were paying WF prices, but I thought it was pretty reasonable.  We paid $30/month for unlimited delivery.  You just filled up your virtual cart and they would deliver it the next day.

I miss it so much.  I feel like I am constantly grocery shopping.  1) We need more food because we’re eating at home more and 2) I have to take more trips because we can’t carry that much.  It’s either what I can carry myself or shove under the stroller.

I’m talk more on this later, but grocery shopping is a pain with both kids.  The stroller is unwieldy.  If I take the stroller, where do I put the groceries when I’m shopping?  I’m hoping some day that Henry can walk there and back, but you just never know with that guy.  And then I’m stuck carrying stuff until I find a personal grocery cart we can buy.

Hops.  They do have beer here.  There is a whole aisle in the store.  But it seems to be pretty much a lager party.  I miss good-ole-American-punch-you-in-the-face hops.  We’ve heard there is a developing craft beer scene here.  I’ll report back when I encounter it.

A variety of takeout options.  Where we lived in DC, we could get a range of takeout or carryout.  For $15-40, I could get Thai, Mexican, Sushi, Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Indian for the whole family to eat in the comfort of my own home.  Which is key with the small kids.  We do restaurants, but it is nice not to have to do restaurants, you know?  And we do lots of cooking, but sometimes you just don’t want to cook.

We had been warned that Rome does not have international cuisine and this has been largely true.  There are two Chinese restaurants in our neighborhood.  We’ve heard of a Mexican restaurant across town.  I’m sure there are others, but you definitely don’t have your pick of everything a few blocks away.

I swear I’m not sick of Italian food yet.  Just in this one instance of takeout.  It would be great to have something other than pizza or panini to grab when we are feeling lazy.  The pizza and panini are pretty amazing.  But OPTIONS.  And you never know if the pizza or panini place is actually open, but that’s another post.

King bed.  We had a king back home.  We opted not to take it.  Our place here is furnished so it didn’t make as much sense.  Also, others told us that it wouldn’t fit.  Even if it would fit in the room, they might not be able to get it into the place it would have to be abandoned by the roadside.  I figured this could be a good chance to test drive a queen; wouldn’t our room look so much bigger if we opted for a queen later?

I miss it so much more than I expected.  I’ve slept in plenty of queen beds.  They aren’t that much smaller, right?  WRONG.  It seems fine to start off.  But the number of times I have woken up about to fall out of bed is more than I’d care to admit.  The day I wake up on the floor is coming.  I’ll make sure to tell you about it, probably in a post with an ill-advised name such as “Queen are the Worst.”

I’m sure there are others, but that is what I’ve missed the most in the first month.  What is your personal Snickers?

Wine tweets: What I’ve been drinking*

*Descriptions from a wine/beer lover who is really bad at talking about it

I’m not sure if this will be a regular feature.  We’ll have to see how it goes.  If I keep it up, I definitely need to do more in real time, as I have forgotten much about these poor bottles.  So with all of these glowing recommendations, here we go . . .



Up first, some chiantis.  The chianti on the left was legit.  Hands down favorite of this post.  James got this on his first visit to the wine store, where he consulted with a very helpful English-speaking wine enthusiast.  I have not yet been to the wine store because stroller.  And taking Henry into a store that specifically and deliberately sells glass bottles seems like a terrible idea.  If I had to pick one word for this one, it would be “mineraly.”  It wasn’t overly tannic, but you were scraping your tongue a little after each sip.  But in a good way.  #gobigred

The chanti in the middle I don’t recall specifics, but I think it was pretty good.  The word here would be “adequate,” but meant in the best possible way.  Here is a nice red that I would enjoy drinking with most things.

The chianti on the right, however, not so much.  I picked this one out at the grocery store.  This is wine that prompted James to suggest we only drink “classicos” from now on.  There just wasn’t a lot to it.  Although when we had it the next day with a nice weekend pizza lunch, it was much better.  I guess I just need to decant my crappy red wines more.  (snort) #pass

More reds

The valipolicella on the left was very nice.  If I recall, when selecting a wine that night, James asked what I wanted and I said “I want something that feels velvety in my mouf.”  I know.  Who says that?  But this one did fit the bill.  #smooth

The other two I do not have strong recollections of.  I believe they were Italian adequate.  And ooo . . . cool bottle decoration.  It’s like the hood ornament to your drinking experience.  #fancy

The lone white of this batch

Even though we arrived to excellent white wine sipping weather (read hot), I’ve just been craving the reds.  This was also Italian adequate.  More on the fruity and refreshing side.  This would be great to drink on its own.  #porchwine

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And one beer

James grabbed a pack (they come in 3s) of these beers at the grocery store.  I use the term beer loosely.  Not because it was bad, but because it really seemed more like lemonade.  In its defense, it was only like 2%.  #wouldbuyatthebeach

And that concludes this edition of wine tweets.  We’ll see if this feature returns.  If it doesn’t, it certainly won’t be because of a lack of subjects.  If this is a must for you, do let me know!