Come and Dine at Downton

wine and Highclere Castle

As you may know from previous posts, Husband has partnered on a number of projects with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[1], owners of Highclere Castle, aka the Real Downton Abbey. This means that we periodically get to visit our friends across the Pond and enjoy time in their wonderful home. The stunning Castle is like a step back in time. Walking in for the first time, I was astounded to realize how well I knew the interior of their home – it’s because virtually all Downton did was remove their personal photos. All the furniture is theirs!

Lady Carnarvon is now opening her home to the public and wants YOU to come and dine at Downton too! She’s running a contest for the month of February in order to raise money for PBS. All you have to do is throw a FABULOUS dinner party, inspired by Highclere and Downton Abbey, raise some funds to donate and enter to win. The winners will be flown to the UK, courtesy of Viking River Cruises, stay the night at Highclere[2], and enjoy a FABULOUS dinner party with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[3].

Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle lit up for a dinner party!

Husband and I are planning our soirée now[4] using recipes from Lady Carnarvon’s latest book, At Home At Highclere. We made her famous chocolate pots for Thanksgiving and they were a huge hit! There’s recipe ideas on her blog as well. Let me know if you’re going to enter and we can chat about party planning!

Chocolate Pots
Lady Carnarvon’s Chocolate Pots

Now on to arranging a menu and wine pairing! Until the next glass!

wine and Highclere Castle
I needed some vino inspiration!

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] Highclere Castle Cigars, which are now available throughout the US, Highclere Castle Gin, which is getting ready for production, and a Highclere Castle Distillery, which is in the works!

[2] Perhaps in Lady Mary’s room where poor Mr. Pamuk died from utter bliss?!

[3] Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that Wine Esquire should be on the guest list for this event. #ToDoList

[4] Fascinators will be required. Obviously.

Highclere Castle
Dressed up for dinner at Highclere Castle

Wine Tasting Dinner Party


A wise man once said, “The only club I want to be part of is a wine club.” I’m not sure which wise man said this, or when he said it, but I’m sure a wise man said it. Or maybe it was a woman.

Special Delivery For Wine Esquire

These wine clubs are popping up all over the place and it seems like a pretty fun concept. Bright Cellars was created by two MIT grads who developed an algorithm[1] to determine which wines you should try based on your flavor preferences.[2] I took my quiz and let them know which kind of chocolate I preferred[3], how I take my afternoon tea, my go-to drink (when the wine has run out),[4] my ideal wine pairing and how adventurous I am when it comes to food and wine. They then paired me up with a few samples, so I decided to have a little tasting party to check them out.

Husband and I planned out a menu and chose three of the bottles to sample. We started with a cheese spread of Cranberry White Cheddar[5] and a stinky Raclette[6].

Wine and Cheese? Yes, please!

The hors-d’œuvres were paired with the 2016 Cameron Corner Verdelho from South Eastern Australia. Melon and citrus on the nose led to a mouthful of herbal green grass. Well balanced, medium bodied, an excellent wine for sipping with cheese. It turned the cranberry cheddar into a mouthwatering explosion. Verdelho is traditionally a Portuguese grape varietal, but it migrated to Australia in the 1820s. Australia is producing some great wines with this grape at attractive price

During a brief eating interlude, where husband and I had to finish making the next course[7], the 2014 Zinsane Zin was opened to allow it to breathe a bit. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we[8] took the roasted butternut squash and apples out of the oven, scooped the insides into the blender, poured in some chicken stock, added a dash of cinnamon and pressed purée. After it had attained the desired consistency, it was transferred to a soup pot to let it simmer on medium for a few minutes before serving. Garnished with a smattering of freshly chopped parsley and Voila, we had a soup course!

wine zinfandel
Oh, you fancy, huh?

The Lodi Zin was unexpectedly on the heavier side, but it was a great pairing with the light and healthy soup[9]. A touch of nutty coffee, definitely full bodied, it countered the sweetness of the soup to make it a well-balanced pairing. This was a great example of Lodi doing really interesting stuff with Zinfandel.

For the finale, Husband had been cooking My Mother’s Sauce[10] on low all day. The cast-iron seared meatballs and sausage were added just two hours before dinner to finish cooking. Doing my fair share, I went out in search of homemade pasta to serve it with. I’ve discovered a lovely little place near our new digs[11] called Pasta Vita. I opened the doors and angels started singing.[12] I was greeted by row after row of homemade gourmet takeout and fresh made pasta and ravioli. Hello dinner! I went with ricotta and spinach,[13] which turned out to be a hit.

wine shiraz
Love me some homemade ravioli, especially when I’m not the one home making it!

We’d opened the next wine during the soup to get that ready for the main course. The 2015 Talbingo Hill Shiraz, also from Australia, was a great pairing. Leather on the nose with a touch of cherry sweetness on the finish. Almost like a cherry tobacco. Dry with some chewy tannins. It met its match with the heavy red sauce, fresh ravioli and pork/veal/beef meatballs.

All in all, three good bottles, served with three great courses, if I do say so myself.

Receiving a case of wine in the mail is like having Christmas on a Tuesday. Opening presents is always fun, no matter the season, and when there’s wine inside it’s even better. If you’d like to get in on the fun, my friends at Bright Cellars are offering friends of Wine Esquire 50% off your first shipment. Go through this link to take your quiz and select your personally paired wines and a $30 credit will be added to your order. When you try it out, let me know what you think!


Cheers wine friends, until the next glass!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Pretty sure this has something to do with math. #smart
[2] Overachievers.
[3] Dark please, preferably with some almonds. #healthnut
[4] Mimosa, obvi.
[5] Which I served with cranberry almond crackers. God I’m good. #snackmaster
[6] Turns out Raclette is typically used for melting. We just spread it on apple slices. As long as you can get past the smell long enough to get it in your mouth, you’ll be a happy camper.
[7] Because making soup is no big deal, right?
[8] By “we” I do mean Husband, but I was supervising and providing general kitchen direction.
[9] Although our dinner guest did suggest that next time we may want to add some heavy cream to the soup to thicken it up a bit. Not sure he’s part of #fitfam.
[10] The recipe comes Straight Outta the Bronx. Super authentic Italian American. It’s the best. I’ve been clandestinely dipping illicitly broken off bread chunks into this sauce while it cooks since I was old enough to clandestinely break bread. I’d give you the recipe, but … #whathappensintheBronx ….
[11] Oh yea, we moved. Packing and unpacking in less than 30 days is now on my resume under “Skills.” Now that we’re settled, we’re loving the new place.
[12] Sort of like what happened on my visit to Château d’Yquem.
[13] And a basket full of other goodies, like stuffed peppers, parmesan risotto, and a healthy sampling of fresh baked cookies that I really did mean to share with everyone. #oops

What to Drink: Thanksgiving Edition

There’s a few important things coming up on the calendar:

  1. T-Minus TEN days until Turkey Day[1]
  2. T-Minus ELEVEN days until Black Friday[2]
  3. T-Minus FOURTEEN days until Cyber Monday[3]
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market

There’s a lot to do to prepare in the coming days, arguably the most important of which is deciding which wines you’ll be pairing with your Thanksgiving Feast[4]. I’ve teamed up with Vinley Market to discuss what wines go best with turkey, Grandma’s Stuffing and Aunt Mary’s Sweet Potato Casserole. I’m thinking that Zinfandel, Rosé and Riesling should all be making appearances. And if you’re not hosting, you should probably bring a bottle of bubbly![5]

Check out my Thanksgiving Wine Pairings and let me know what you’ll be drinking this Turkey Day.

And while you’re at it, get 10% off your wine order at Vinley Market with coupon code WINEESQUIRE10.

Until the next glass, Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] That means its T-MINUS TEN days and a few hours until 24/7 Christmas Music! YAY
[2] Also, another day off work. #score
[3] Is your Amazon Wish List ready? Mine is. #alwaysready
[4] Or Friendsgiving Feast, as the case may be.
[5] Obviously.

Place Setting Goals (c) Vinly Market
Place Setting Goals (c) Vinley Market

Hey, Can we BYOB?

The old adage, it never hurts to ask, is a mantra I live my life by. The worst response you can get is no, so you might as well give it a shot! You’d be surprised at all the times the universe has said YES.

The trouble with our favorite Indian spot is the wine list. It’s bad. I usually order water. Husband usually gets some random beer called Haywards 5000[1]. But the food is awesome. The spice is crazy, the quality is great, and it’s cheap. I had a gorgeous bottle of Riesling I was saving and I really wanted to drink it with Indian food. Ordering to go is a pain since the restaurant is about 20 minutes away. So I said, what if we called and asked if we can BYOB? They said of course, for a $7 corking fee[2]. SCORE.

Maharaja Express? Maybe not quite.
Maharaja Express? Maybe not quite.

Now this place is not exactly the Maharaja Express[3], but it gets the job done. I always try to order something different since everything I’ve had is great, and the menu is pretty extensive, filled with items I’ve never tried; Chicken Saag,[4] Rogan Josh,[5] Seekh Kebab,[6] and a whole lot more.

Chicken Vindaloo
Chicken Vindaloo

We started with some vegetable samosas and the cinnamon/cardamom flavors popped through which was really fun. For dinner I went with Chicken Vindaloo, hot and spiced chicken cooked with potatoes and a touch of vinegar[7]. They always ask you whether you want it Spicy, American Spicy or Indian Spicy. Now Husband and I consider ourselves connoisseurs of spice. When we travel we seek out the local hot sauce[8]. Put some Tabasco on it and I’m usually a happy camper. Last time we were here I went with “Indian spicy” and it literally knocked my socks off. I could barely eat through the tears streaming down my face. Since I actually had some wine I wanted to enjoy with this meal, I toned it down to American Spicy[9].

Our Wine Chiller
Our Wine Chiller

They provided us with an ice bucket soda pitcher to keep the wine chilled[10]. Let me tell you, bringing this wine to dinner was the best idea. Ever. The Hillersden 2015 Riesling tied everything together like an essential part of the meal, almost another food group[11]. A whiff of honey on the nose; light and vibrant with a bit of lemon zest. This meal’s perfect degree of spice was a flawless companion to the slightly sweet Riesling. A faint touch of minerality on the finish, it was the missing link to make this dining experience complete.

2015 Hillersden Riesling
2015 Hillersden Riesling

Next time you’re wanting to go to dinner but know the wine list is subpar, ask to BYOB. It can make the experience that much better[12].

BYOB was such a good idea!
BYOB was such a good idea!

Hillersden, the wine producer, has a pretty neat story as well. Historically Hillersden was an industrial township in New Zealand’s Upper Wairau Valley. World War II crippled its industry, leading to its steady decline. Husband and Wife team Bruce and Marian Forlong came to Hillersden in 2013, along with their three sons, with the goal of bringing new life to the area. And so far, based on this Riesling, they’re doing a great job.

(C) Hillersden Wines
(C) Hillersden Wines

So far distribution in the US is limited, but you can use coupon code ESQUIRE for 30% off their entire wine selection through October 31. Shipping isn’t too bad, and the wine is super affordable. Let me know what you think!

Until the next glass, Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] It comes in an extra-large bottle and it’s actually kind fun.
[2] Which is reasonable and fair. #BYOB To all those restaurants price gouging with a $20 cork fee, really?!
[3] Which is on the travel bucket list for sure. Check this out, it looks amazing!

(C) Maharaja Express
(C) Maharaja Express

[4] Boneless chicken cooked with chopped spinach, and Indian spices.
[5] Lamb cubes cooked with tomatoes in freshly grounded spices, and yogurt sauce.
[6] Skewered ground lamb, spiced with garam masala, onion, ginger, and cilantro.
[7] Confession: I don’t remember what Husband got, but he usually gets Chicken Tikka Masala. It was great.
[8] Anguilla’s Rockfield Pepper Sauce is up there as one of THE BEST in the world. Serious Wow.
[9] It was the right choice.
[10] Fancy? No. Efficient? Yes.
[11] And at $15 a bottle, it’s a no-brainer.
[12] AND they forgot to charge us the BYOB corkage fee. Probably because nobody ever brings their own wine. Or maybe because they know us and felt bad their wine list was bad.