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Red Wine and Garlic Don't Mix.

Okay, that title is a lie. Garlic is delicious with red wine. Tuscan cuisine wouldn't be the same without either Chianti or garlic-laden bolognese! But there is a time and a place, and I found the antithesis of that time and place this past weekend.

If you've ever driven through Gilroy, CA, you know that the city's motto should probably be one word, all capitalized: GARLIC. You see the signs for fresh garlic and garlic ice cream and garlic preserves and garlic braids, you feel like you've got garlic breath just from driving through on 101, you hear about the Garlic Festival every July.

It's a tragedy that I have had three summers in the Bay Area and this past weekend is the first time that I've been to the Festival that makes the city great. I grew up in Small-Town America, so I know how to deal with crowded town fairs in zillion-degree heat (hint: drink early, bring water, wear sunscreen and comfortable clothes). Add garlic fries and garlic bread and free garlic ice cream to that equation, and I am absolutely on board! Plus, I heard a rumor that they would have a wine tent, and honestly, that's a good enough reason to get me to show up anywhere. So on Saturday, my boyfriend and I showed up at my Gilroy-born friend's house at 9:30am to caravan to the festival, eat our fill of garlic-doused food, and have a built-in excuse to drink before noon.

The wine tent turned out to be the best decision of the day; not only was it not crowded when we arrived, but it was a shaded and mist-sprayer-rigged so we could get a respite from the 95 degree heat outside. There were about ten local wineries pouring samples and full glasses for attendees, almost all of which I had passed on my back-roads drive to the festival. I hadn't tasted most of the wineries' offerings prior to that day, so I made quick work of my drink tickets.

Lightheart Cellars gets a shout-out from me here; Sheldon and George poured the gorgeous Colombard of theirs, and they made a white sangria of it for us to taste as well! Both were perfect for the weather and the occasion, and I may have counted the strawberries and apples in my sangria cup as one of my servings of fruit for the day.

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Don't Be *That* Guy

We all have things we get irrationally angry about, and there are a few practices that are pretty widely looked down upon by wine professionals. Here are some tips to avoid making your sommelier, tasting room host, or overly-snobby-wine-friend (yeah... that's me) cringe:

1. Dress for the occasion. If you know you're going to be wine-tasting at a couple upscale or well-known high-end wineries, or you're visiting a more formal restaurant, get the spiffy jacket and shoes out! Ladies, that means cocktail or sundresses and nice shoes! It's completely awkward when someone walks into a fancier venue wearing cargo shorts, oversized t-shirts with screenprinted "clever" sayings on the front, flip-flops, or Daisy Duke cutoff shorts. Yes, this is the Bay Area, and that means you can dress it down a little bit. But please, be respectful of the people around you trying to have a nice, classy time.

This goes the other way, too. If the winery you are visiting has a tasting room in a barn with a wooden or dirt floor, or is hosted in the backyard of the winemaker or vineyard owner, jeans and sneakers are fine. I'm still not crazy about cargo shorts (ever) or flip-flops, but this is not the time women want to be wearing stilettos that will get stuck in the dirt or between boards! The best approach is to just do your research before going to these venues. You don't want to stick out like a sore thumb because you're too over- or under-dressed.

2. When tasting wines at a new winery, don't tell the host or hostess that you only drink "x wine." It's great to have your particular tastes in mind as you try new wines, but if you aren't actually going to taste wine, why would you go to a wine tasting room? This is your chance to try new things!

3. Don't show up drunk. Don't leave drunk. Don't let your friends get sloppy drunk either. I know I've talked about this before, but it's so important not to lose your composure in public. Knowing your limits and being responsible for maintaining a measure of sobriety means that no one gets to tell the story of that time you vomited into the spit-bucket or climbed up to dance on the bar. Fun as it may be to tell those stories when they happen to other people, you don't want to be the main subject!

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Bring the Punch.

 Traditionally I have spent the Fourth of July at a friend's house by the beach down in Southern California, eating and drinking the traditional foods of summer and falling asleep to Air Force One or Independence Day after watching the fifteen or so firework shows we can see from his house on the bluff. The whole day is full of potluck dishes crowding the counter-tops, and as the day wears on, the number of beer cans and wine bottles becomes overwhelming; aluminum and glass containers teeter on every conceivable ledge, and a mountain of empties in the recycling seems to have taken Mount Everest's size as a personal challenge.

The amount of beer and wine bottles we go through over the course of the day was getting out of hand a couple years back, and one of the guests showed up with several more bottles of a Chardonnay that (without naming names...) could be purchased for two dollars at a local grocery store. We just didn't have room for them, and even if we had, there were several other wines a bit higher on our "To Drink Today" list. But that was no reason for the Two-Buck Ch--er...the wine...to sit abandoned.

Rather than drink the inexpensive wine in its original form (thereby leaving less room in our appetites for the other, perhaps higher-quality bottles), I decided it had reached that point in the day; it was time for Sangria!

True Sangria should always be made at least 12 hours before you plan to drink it, allowing the brandy and red wine to meld with the soaked fruit, but a perfectly refreshing White Sangria can be pulled together in a matter of minutes. It helps that July is prime time for delicious produce, since the fruit you get will most likely be juicy, ripe, and at its peak of flavor.

White Sangria from Eat. Drink. Enjoy. Repeat.

Here's what you do:
Get a punch bowl or drink dispenser and fill it about halfway with ice. This is white sangria, and you want it to be ice-cold! You'll be mixing the ingredients together inside this container, so make sure you can easily stir its contents with a wooden spoon.

Slice up a bunch of fruit--for white sangria you want fruit with a lot of natural acidity, so I use Granny Smith apples, white peaches and plums, strawberries, pears, even green grapes. Put all of this into the bowl and add just a pinch of sugar, stirring to let the fruit macerate a little bit.

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Drunk or Kid?

Drunk or Kid?

1. I was in an intense discussion with my brother about the origin of the many interesting names of Harry Potter characters. For three hours.

Drunk or kid?

2. I was wearing a tutu, rainbow suspenders, a pirate skull bandana, and water shoes, carrying a small water pistol and running arm-in-arm with my best friends. We were jumping in every fountain we passed (which, in Southern California, is a lot of fountains) and singing at the top of our lungs.

Drunk or kid?

3. I was filling water balloons and sneaking up on the kid next door, ready to ambush him if he threw more twigs over into my yard.

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How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

When you decide to go wine-tasting, it's easy enough to just grab your significant other, a couple friends, hop in the designated driver's car, and go! You'll head out, stop at a couple favorite vineyards, maybe be adventurous and hit another new one on the way.

Oops, the first one is closed for a private event. And the second one has a bachelorette party running around asking everyone if they wear boxers or briefs and screaming "Woooo!" every few seconds. The last one closes in twenty minutes... Think we can make it? And I haven't eaten all day, where's the closest fast food place? We can make it there in five minutes, right? Oh wait, this is a single lane highway and everyone's heading home now, there's no way we can get that last stop in.

I've dealt with that scenario (and other logistics issues) more times than necessary. It doesn't seem like going on a wine tour should take that much forethought and planning, right? Now I'm well-versed in planning out a wine tour, whether it's for me and my boyfriend or me and twenty of my closest friends on a charter bus, but it takes some practice in order to have the best time on your day of wine tasting.

First, call every winery you plan to visit ahead of time! Let them know how many people you will have in your party, and ask if there's anything special going on that particular day. I try to call a week ahead of time if I'm going with a group of four or fewer, but I'll call a month ahead to schedule a tasting for a group larger than that. Not all tasting rooms can accommodate a group of more than eight or ten people, and they need to know if a big group is coming so they can have adequate staff, samples, and seating for the group. Nothing will turn the tasting room staff against you faster than showing up with a large group unannounced. The day of your trip, call the tasting room again if anything has changed--number of guests or time you will arrive, in particular--so they have time to properly accommodate your party.

It's also a good idea to inquire if there are any special tours or experiences you should take advantage of when at the winery. Is there a barrel tasting or blend-your-own-wine workshop? What about a tour of the vineyards, facility, or wine caves? Will you be able to meet the wine maker? It's not necessary at every winery, but it's an easy way to break up the tastings and make the stop special.

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