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Grapelive’s Hot Picks


2001 Mastrojani Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy

This is a beautiful and pure Brunello that is both clean and old world charming, proving this is one place where you can keep terroir and still make a modern palate happy. Lovely richness and sublime textures with vigor and live, this classic Brunello can be drunk now or kept for another decade. Cherry, strawberry, cassis and dried herb Sangiovese purity flows across the palate with touches of rose petal, red berry and tobacco that add to the complex array of layers. This wine has a near perfect balance of fruit, tannin and acidity, again highlighting the vintage and superb winemaking here. ( $48 Est) 93-94 Points, grapelive


2006 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhone White, France

This classy vibrant white has plenty to love and is never anything but fresh and beautiful. Soft peach, pear and apricot fruit, clean acidity and subtle mineral and spice notes. Gets bigger and deeper with air, but it never gets flabby or out of balance. This Chateauneuf Blanc is fantastic and has the style of a Puligny in if it is Southern Rhone wine, that is how pure and focused it is. It shows ripe fruit, smooth texture and a full round mouth-feel with a long zesty finish. ($52-55 Est) 92 Points, grapelive

Kermit Lynch Direct

Also avail. at Bouchee Wines

Latest Reviews, Weekly Picks


2005 La Spinetta Barbera D’ Asti Ca Di Pian, Piedmonte, Italy

I am a hopeless fan of this producer, I feel they might be the overall best winery in Piedmonte! This wine is a joy and offers so much it is hard to not fall in love with it. A super value, even with the lame dollar to euro, at $28 this is a steal. I get a case or so whenever I can! It is hard to find, but now that the Henry Wine Group imports it direct it has became easier for restaurants and wine merchants to get it, so get on your local to pick it up! Lush red fruits, plum, cherry and berries with some pretty currants. Good dark color and full-bodied, this Barbera gives it all. I give this wine to all my friends, and they just call it the Rhino Wine, because of the label drawing. ($28-30 est.) 93 Points, grapelive


2006 Chateau Thivin Brouilly Cru Beaujolais (Gamay Noir) Claude Geoffray, French Red

If you want to perfect Thanksgiving red this just might be it, just one sip will convince most to the pleasure of a real fine Beaujolais! This clean and structured Gamay has tons of fruity flavor, but is lively and medium bodied. Pretty fresh crushed berries and strawberry compote smoothly dance on the palate with a flourish of cranberry and dried flowers on the finish. This is a totally yummy wine that has class, but easy to quaff anytime. You can find it through Kermit Lynch in Berkeley and it is under $20 most places! ($18-22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Reviews & News Oct. 2007


I’m back from exploring Russia

Okay, so the wine sucked, but Russia was awesome and the beer and vodka made up for the disappointment with the wine. I tried an Abkahzian red made with a native Georgian grape of which I can’t spell nor pronounce, while the winemaking was sloppy and dirty I do believe the grape could be a very good one. I was told the Georgian made versions are wonderfully rich and compelling, but alas it was not to be for me. Russia has a strict embargo against Georgia and most of their ex-republics, which they claim is for quality and health safety issues, though it is known to be a political issue. So I made due with Baltika beer, which is like the Carlsberg of Russia and based in Saint Petersburg. Baltika makes about 12 different styles of which I tried most! The wheat beer (number 8 on the label) I think was the best, though the export Lager (number 7) and the porter (number 9) were of very good quality. The Russians did have a super selection of Italian wines along with a good choice of Aussie and French as well, so drinking wine is not bad and I did see more people drinking wine than vodka in restaurants, which did surprise me. There is a really bad drinking problem in Russia and lots of lives are being lost to alcoholism and drunk driving, but that said, Moscow streets were not littered with drunks and most people drinking out in public were doing so with beer and seemed fairly lucid. While surprised by the lax enforcement and open public drinking, it was nice to sit in front of the Kremilin on a sunny day with a brew from a keg served from a rolling kiosk! Check back as I’m putting a whole article together on my Russian holiday soon, under the “Fermented Travel” column.

Too see my notes on the latest Pasonage wines, check out my barrel tasting from last month <click here>

Latest Reviews


2004 Nicholas Joly Savennieres Clos de la Bergerie Loire Valley, France (Chenin Blanc) White Wine

I have wanted to taste and review Joly wines for years, as he is one of the great pioneers of Bio-Dynamic (super organic) winemaking and is extreme in his views about it. I must say that I am now a full on believer! This Chenin is one of the top white wines you can get, with richness, depth and earthiness that puts it on par with Montrachet
or a great Alsace wine. This is his middle priced version and it is golden in color and has a perfect balance between old world and new world, meaning it has ripeness, but retains clarity and vibrant flavors. Peach, white plum, pear and clove with hints of mineral, straw and citrus. It finishes with dried flowers and a touch of honey. This is a joy, especial for the geeky wine drinker that is looking for something different to try their friends on.($45 est.) 93 Points, grapelive


2004 Nicholas Joly Savennieres Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, Loire Valley, France (Chenin Blanc) White Wine

This is the top of Joly’s line and my God is it good! Like a Grand Cru Burgundy or First Growth Bordeaux, sometime somewhere regardless of price you must try this wine. It is lovely and intense at the same time and is amazingly complex for a Chenin Blanc, proving that Nicholas Joly has something special and his extreme views just might be 100% correct. This Bio-Dynamic thing has got something to it and this wine could be the poster child for the movement. This has to be the greatest Chenin in the world, who is going to argue that claim? Well I’m sure many, but find this wine and try it then write me and tell me it is not true! Jess Jackson (Kendall-Jackson) and his Regal Wine Company sells this wine wholesale, so ask your local wine store to get you some. This lush and pure wine has a freshness and light touch at first, but gets bigger and richer with air. I found all kinds of white and yellow fruits, flowers and subtle mineral notes with a grace and character not found that often in this in your face world. The texture is amazing and the length is fantastic. Words can’t do it justice, so at some point you’ll have to try it yourself. ($90-100) 96 Points, grapelive

Parsonage 2005 Releases


2005 Parsonage Merlot Estate Carmel Valley
This is the breakthrough vintage for the Parsonage estate Merlot and maybe the dark horse of the vintage! I was impressed with the dark inky color and perfume that has all ready come together in this wine. The mouth is very full and complex with lush cherry, plum and dark berry fruits. The oak is well infused and adds sweet vanilla and mocha notes. Not much of this Merlot will be produced, so be sure to add it on your offering if your lucky enough to be on the winery mailing list, this is not a Merlot to be overlooked! 92 Points, grapelive


2005 Parsonage Syrah Estate Carmel Valley
Syrah has always been a winner here and this rises to the next level, as the vines mature on the estate lots more underlying flavor and complexity shows through. This vintage is the cleanest and more defined yet, with Blueberry, spice, plum, cassis and mineral all in sharp focus. This wine will be a steal on release, so don’t be shy and get on their list today! Added touches of smoke and game give a hint to its Syrah intensity and class. 93 Points, grapelive


2005 Parsonage Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Carmel Valley
Cabernet did really well here in 2005 and I think it is showing much more character as well, I think the grape is star here and it seems to be so correct that I have a hard time finding any flaws! Pure classic fruits and depth make this vintage remarkable and especially noteworthy. Mixed black and red berry, plum, currants, cassis and chewy tannins scream Cabernet and don’t let up. The complex underbrush, herb and tobacco notes are very subtle and the hints of licorice, vanilla and cranberry are lovely. 93 Points, grapelive


2005 Parsonage Syrah Reserve “Carmel Stone” Estate Carmel Valley
Coming off the upper block of the hillside this Syrah is jet black and inky dark, same as last year, but there’s even more going on and it seems much more pure. So in fact an awesome wine just got even better, and honestly I was surprised, because I loved the 2004! I got lost on the nose alone, the violets and herbal spices are amazing and beautiful. Fantastic balance and depth make you think Cote-Rotie, but it is truly a wine of its own place. Sweet boysenberry, cherry, plum and wild mountain berry fruit, white pepper and liqueur all come at you in perfect layers. 96 Points, grapelive


2005 Parsonage Syrah “Cuvee Rocco” Reserve Estate (Special Barrel Selection), Carmel Valley
This special barrel selection takes the darkest and most intense Syrah and it shows an added intensity and thickness throughout. Jet black and powerful now with ripe tannins, I might be going out on a limb here, but this maybe be the greatest expression of Syrah from Carmel Valley ever produced! The fruit is all about the dark side, with blackberry, blueberry and savory black currants leading the way, but this wine still retains tangy acidity that keeps it all flowing nicely. It is all ready dense and chewy even though it still will fill out even more, giving me reason to call it a blockbuster! 97 Points, grapelive


2005 Parsonage Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Estate, Carmel Valley
Every vintage just gets better here, and 2005 looks set to take the throne as the Parsonage king wine. Nothing in this area even comes close to this wine, it is a freak of nature and I can only compare it to Napa and Pauillac in its style and richness, then again it just might even be better! Bill Parsons finds it hard to take in, but he is a man living the dream, as his wines rank as world class or even world-beaters! The 05 Reserve Cab is utterly fantastic with blackberry jam, cassis, currants and plum fruit bursting at the seams, it is almost more impressive for the depth and balance that is has! Everything is in its place and the wine is so focused and defined it can’t help but be a classic. 98 Points, grapelive


2005 Parsonage “Cuvee Bixby” Reserve Petit Verdot Estate, Carmel Valley
I tasted the blend in separate barrels, starting with the Petit Verdot with will make up the majority in this unique wine. This Bordeaux blend leans on the rare Petit Verdot grape, which has a darker color and deeper perfume than the other Bordeaux grapes. Though for some reason, here in Carmel Valley the grape also has a rich fullness and character that is doesn’t usually achieve in Bordeaux proper. This vintage shows crème de cassis, bright sweet flowers, a massive body and lush tannins. The subtle briar, tobacco and spice all add up to pure joy. The final blend should be about 75-80% Petit Verdot and then polished off with some of the reserve Cabernet and maybe a touch of the remarkable Merlot fruit this year. When I tasted the selected barrels of Petit Verdot there was some set aside for a new limited wine the “Cuvee Bixby” that is named for the latest edition the clan and I can tell you nothing is spared in making this the finest wine possible. As much as I can tell this special blend will surpass the amazing 2003 and 2004 vintages and maybe become one of the most sought after wines of 2005! *After tasting the final bottled version, I can tell you it all come together in near perfection, This is an awesome wine that will get better with some age as well. 96+ Points, grapelive

Parsonage Village Vineyard

Winery Direct

Grapelive Picks Fun and Local Wines For Ol’ Factory Cafe

Ol’ Factory CafeOl’ Factory Cafe is now the hottest place in Monterey for cool Beer & Wine selections

Grapelive hand-picked a few wines for their by the glass list including: Martin Alfaro Chardonnay, Pasonage Snosrap Cyrano Red, Galante Vineyards Rancho Galante Cabernet Sauvignon, and then also picked a couple of worldly selections as well. The spicy and juicy Minervois and a New Zealand Pinot by Dashwood rounded out my picks and fills out a great selection of Beer and Wine at this very cool cafe. Morgan Christopher has made this “Green” built urban bistro into a local favorite with a light and focused menu and the best coffee by far in the Monterey area. It is my local and I’m there almost everyday. In fact I hope to have a tasting group of wine lovers there soon! Then there is the other drink of choice, Beer and they have that nailed with some great brews on tap, my unholy weakness is the wonderful and hoppy Green Flash IPA, but they have some German and Belgian brews that you won’t find on tap many places. Even the famed Beer Geeks of “A Year in Beer”and  are considering putting their picks on tap there! So if you get a chance you must check this place out. For more details go to:

Besides Florence this is the best place for cappuccino I have found, well in this town anyway.

Grapelive Reviews Sept. 2007

Alfaro Pinot Noir

2005 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lindsay-Page Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains

Wildly ripe on the nose with fresh flowers and boysenberry syrup leading to a refined and creamy palate, with classic cherry fruit and lovely depth and body. This wine is intense, but is lush and smooth and should develop nicely for the next 2-3 years if you can wait that long. I’d drink it up now for sure. The sweet fruits and smoky mocha oak notes give plenty of enjoyment and again I must say I really admire the efforts of Richard Alfaro as a stylish and natural winemaker. 92 Points, ($40 est) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zin

2005 Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel (Field Blend) Estaste, Sonoma Valley

This is pure dry-farmed classic old style Zinfandel that is everything we always loved about Zin and old vine fruit! Will Bucklin has crafted a special wine that is both clean and rich, but pays homage to the classic wines that made Zin the wine that maybe defined California uniqueness. This wine has pop and zesty acidity that gives life and edgy energy, that holds together lush and spicy fruit. This isn’t your pancake or ice cream topping, this is serious red wine with lots of soul and hearty flavors. Big raspberry and black plum fruit lead the way, with touches of pepper, lavender and vanilla adding support. This is very tasty and it should age well too. 94 Points, ($35) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Palmina Pinot Grigio

2006 Palmina Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara County

Steve Clifton of Brewer Clifton famed, know considered by those in the know to be one of the best winemakers around recently launched this almost all Italian inspired line of wines. This Pinot Grigio is a wonderful and true wine, it is everything you liked about the classic Italian wines, but almost better is all ways! Lovely and light on the palate, but full in flavors and length, it is nothing short of enjoyment. Fresh citrus, green apple, spicy pear and tangy refreshment, this is a wine that can just be fun, but serious too. Great value for what you get, thanks to Mr. Clifton, bravo. 90 Points, ($16) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Cliff Lede Claret

2004 Cliff Lede Claret Napa Valley (Cabernet Blend, Bordeaux-Style Red)

This is great wine and a steal, I must say it kicks butt over lots of over $100 Meritage wines and that just makes me like it even more! At around $35 a bottle and flavors that taste like Insignia, I say power to the people! Lovely nose and pure mouth feel right away tell you this is the real deal, giving way to blackberry, cassis, currants, cherry pie, mocha and creamy sweet oak all layered to perfection. Good depth and smooth tannins make it all work and ready to drink now. Lede has the talents of David Abreu and Michel Rolland in the background, though clearly present. Get it and get it now… 93 Points, ($35) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

DEux Montille Burgundy

2005 DEux Montille Chambolle-Musigny “Les Babilleres” Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir)

This is what Burgundy can be and is, from a wonderful vintage, a true classic and clean, bright and lovely. These guys do it right and in turn do us right with an affordable gem that delivers all the best and rewards you with being very fairly priced even with the total crap exchange rate. Violets, rose petals, earthy minerals and spice lead to a solid core of bright red cherry fruit and plum jam. The wine remains fresh and tangy though to the long finish and the deft use of oak adds to the balance and complexity. I should think a little cellar time would deepen the enjoyment and thicken it all up as well, maybe 3-5 wait is deserved. 93-94 Points, ($69) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Martin Alfaro Pinot Deer Park

2005 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir Deer Park Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains *Re-Tasting

This wine has surpassed my predictions and continues to develop and grows with each passing month. I tried it as a barrel sample and loved it and now it is all grown up and even better! Lush and thick with ripe earthy fruits this Pinot is firmly hitting the sweet spot and delivers high quality enjoyment. Dark colored fro long hang-time and firm stucture give backbone and plum and cherry fruits give loads of flavor. Hints of blueberry, cranberry and smoky coffee bean all wrapped in a polished and focused way. 93+ Points, ($35) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Andrew Murray Syrah Tous les Jours

2005 Andrew Murray Syrah “Tous les Jours” (Central Coast)

Just buy it, you’ll see… This is a rich and easy drinking Syrah and come on it is less than $20! Andrew can really make wine and this screw-capped little beauty is a great bottle for any and all occasions. Lusty blueberry, cherry and plum fruits leading the way and stay all the way to the fresh lengthy end. There is some nice espresso, pepper and mineral notes and a lack of overt oak that add up to a zesty Syrah that that is easy and pure. I’d say this with be a party favorite and with its clean flavors should go with most menus. Enjoy now and often. 91 Points, ($18-20) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Cave De Chante Perdrix Saint-Joseph Syrah, Rhone Valley, France

2005 Cave de Chante-Perdrix Saint-Joseph (Syrah) Nothern Rhone, France (Red Wine)

This pretty and earthy Syrah really gives a lot for a really nice price, like a baby Hemitage. I like the floral and blueberry compote notes, as well as the smooth cherry and plum fruits. There are subtle complexities that come with some air, like lavender, dried flowers, white pepper, mineral and grilled meat. This a round wine with good vigor and ripeness that shines with quality. 92 Points, ($25-30) grapelive

Bouchee Wines

Snosrap Cyrano Red

2005 Snosrap Cyrano Red Table Wine, Arroyo Seca, Monterey

Here is a lush, chocolaty red that shows some sage, cedar and cranberry on the nose with smooth cherry mocha on the palate. There is some green pepper notes that add a Cabernet Franc like characte, but the rich mouth-feel and long finish will surprise you. The dusty ripe tannins are there, but never harsh and overall this is a solid wine and is really pleasing, much better now then when I barrel tasted it. This vintage has Merlot, Cabernet & Syrah and I think the Syrah really adds to the whole and makes it much more interesting. 90 Points, ($20-25 Est) grapelive

Pasonage Village Vineyard Direct

Snosrap Cyrano Pinot Noir

2005 Snosrap Cyrano Pinot Noir, Arroyo Seco, Monterey

Wow, again this wine has really gained a lot of everything good since the barrel, it has come together nicely. Bright and medium weighted now this Pinot has more traditional flavors and a long finish than when I first tried it, I’m glad I got a chance to correct a small slight, I will drink up the rest happily no doubt! Fresh strawberry, cherry and raspberry come forward now and there is a nice spicy plum and tartness that add depth. The length is impressive and the acidity keeps everything in place with the sweet toasty wood coming in at just the right time. 90 Points, ($20-25 Est) grapelive

Pasonage Village Vineyard Direct

Palmina Brings a Taste of Italy to California

Italian wines hold a special place in my heart and lots of us American’s are captivated by their romance and simple pleasures, all made more the unique due to the fact that we could not make the Cal-Itals taste or feel like the real ones. Well, until now! At first I was a non-believer and though I liked some Cal-Itals made with Sangiovese grapes, they were not very true to their Italian templates. Now I’m eating my words and thoughts that is because I have just tasted the line up of Palmina wines, which are the truest to their roots Italian varietals I’ve ever tried. Produced in tiny amounts, Palima delivers with quality wines crafted by the talented Steve Clifton (Brewer-Clifton, famed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir makers) these wines are not only dead-ringers for their Italian cousins, they are fantastic wines! I was blown away with their Nebbiolo that was a regal as any Barolo and even their pretty Arneis was a delight. While these wines will not replace the originals in my heart, they will be getting some space in my cellar!

Parsonage 2006 Vintage Barrel Tasting Report

Parsonage 2006 Barrel Tasting Early Report July 16, 2007


2006 Parsonage Merlot Estate Carmel Valley

Again, the Merlot surprises me, with great depth and length making it a pleasure and something to look forward to. The color is dark and pure as are the flavors in this rich and seductive wine. The fruit is thick and creamy on the palate and there is a freshness that perks everything up. Black cherry, plum, cedar, red berry and savory vanilla all blend together seamlessly. 93-94 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Carmel Valley

This is a powerful and intense wine with bold Cabernet flavors and youthful tannins, so with another 8-10 months in barrel comes as good thing. That said this is something that will come together into a wonderful wine, as the fruit here is deep and complex all ready. Lots of black fruits and creamy new oak will make this red a big winner on release. Patience will be rewarded here for sure. 92-93 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Carmel Valley

I had heard from friends that this would blow my socks off, and I can tell you with out a doubt that was the case! This is a wildly exotic wine and will be something exceptional and maybe the odds on favorite to be the wine of the vintage around here. The color is shocking black purple and it has intense perfume even it this barrel sample. Now, honestly, it is a truth that a great wine begins a great wine and is always a great wine, and I can tell you right now this is a great wine. This Cabernet is pure and has that something extra that one usually finds in a 1983 Chateau Margaux or maybe a 1997 Caymus Special Select. There is a beautiful nature here and it drinks well even now, but don’t be fooled it isn’t a soft wine, as it has impressive tannins and vibrant acidity. Everything is just in harmony giving this red some real Zen. The amazing Cab has blackberry, Blueberry, cassis, currants and plumy fruits, with hints of tobacco and sweet smoky oak notes that linger on and on. 96-98 Points, grapelive

20006 Bixby Petit Verdot Reserve Carmel Valley

This is a sexy and spicy wine with subtle perfume and lush fruits that is still a little shy. There seems to be everything here and it should develop nicely and really fill out over the next year. By giving it some air really got things going, so I have no questions here at all, this is going to be a stunning and unique wine. They haven’t finished the final blend here and I hope the give it a little of that Merlot and maybe a dollop of the Cab to give it a little more pop. Blueberry, wild flowers and lush cherry fruit all come together early on the front of the palate and the finish is long and bright. 93-95 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Syrah Estate Carmel Valley

This rich and sweet-fruited Syrah has the stuffing of years past, but it is really developing a certain terroir now, with unique flavors and style. This wine shows only the slightest hint of pepper, but has some savory sage and mineral notes to go with the full red fruits and crème de Cassis. This Syrah is just a baby now, but it has a certain class and gamey quality that hint at good things to come. 91-93 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Syrah Carmelstone Reserve Carmel Valley

This one has it all, but it is tight and rock hard now with acidity and tannin galore to go with its powerful fruit. The black and blue fruits give great length and the sweet toasty oak is pleasurable though it must certainly get much better in the coming year in barrel. Overall I am convinced that it will develop into a fruit forward joy of a wine, just be giving it time. 90-93 Points, grapelive

2006 Parsonage Syrah Cuvee Rocco Reserve Carmel Valley
This wine is a stunner! Amazingly it is all ready a gem and will get even better, with complex and super rich fruit. The flavors are both clear and classic that does remind me of a wonderful Hermitage, maybe better! Blackberry, blueberry, cherry liqueur, grilled meat, mineral, spices and perfume all mix perfectly. This wine has exotic mint, lavender and vanilla too, though it takes some air to get it all out. This wine makes it tougher to pick a best of show for this Parsonage vintage! 94-96 Points, grapelive

Fermented Travel: Riga, Latvia

Riga, The Jewell of the Baltic States (And the Home of Some Very Nice Beer)

Riga, Latvia

Riga, the capital of Latvia is a beautiful and historic city that has about 4000 years of recorded habitation and a long and trying past, as Latvia has had only about half a century of independence total in all that time. Still Latvian culture has endured and remains strong with their language and folk music that is ever present in even this modern world. I came to Riga to meet a friend, an American like myself, but one that has been living in Moscow for the last 6 years and had been in Prague for the 6 or so years before that. He was a wonderful tour guide and was able to get me into the spirit of the place right away with a drink in a local pub in the old town within 45 minutes of landing in this beautiful city. Michael did have connections and the apartment he rented for us was ideally located in the heart of the old town and very near the medieval section and close walking distance to everything important to see and experience here. Smooth cobblestones greeted my feet as we ventured into the Riga night, I had just spent a week in Sweden with friends and at first saw some Scandinavian accents here and there, and in fact at one time Riga was the second capital of Sweden. The history breathes in this place and its mark is everywhere. The Finns, the Danes and the Swedes all ruled here, but it is the German and Russian occupations that are remembered here and still there is much bitterness that can be felt. Soviet liberation is sweet for Latvians and only came in the early nineties and one is struck by its effect. That sad, the Russian influence will continue here as a third of the population in Latvia are ethnic Russians and their language seems to be the most widely spoken, even as the Latvians tear down signs and billboards in that tongue. The German influence remains in the Lutheran churches and of course the beer, of which I enjoyed very much. That first sip convinced me, and the smoke filled pub just added to the atmosphere in this charming city, though the pole at the end of the bar with the beautiful young blonde in a bikini didn’t hurt either. Did I mention the women here? Well, I’ll be back just for them I can tell you, never in my life have I seen so many beautiful women as I did in my three days in Riga, but that is another story.

That first night in Riga, Michael and myself savored the local favorites Aldaris and Cesis beer brands and stuck to their Pils, both of which were fresh and very tasty. Over the next couple of days we ventured Riga far and wide from its riverbanks, parks, soviet blocks, orthodox Russian churches, museums and of course the city’s fantastically located beer gardens and trying some of their more exotic beers and ales. Bee keeping has a long history here as well and honey is cherished and honeycomb is like gold at the marketplaces, so as you’d imagine honey mead is popular and indeed very nice here and the are honey beers too of which I had a few during a sun drenched afternoon that saw us chatting away about how Riga remains totally unique and how it has absorbed western influence without much loss in its old world ways. There are cell phone stores, Puma boutiques and a few Pizza Huts like the rest of western Europe, but in Riga somehow they seem to go unnoticed with everything else that grabs your attention like markets in most squares selling handmade linens, hand crafts, amber jewelry and traditional garments. The sounds of Riga are different and are like nothing like anywhere else I’ve traveled. An old Russian soldier played fiddle for us, in between telling us of his march to Berlin in 1944 and his time now unwanted by both his motherland and his adopted Latvia, neither of which will not pay his army pension. Things are different here and many struggle with life in this new age here. We were approached by little kids begging, scurried away by Michael shouting at them in his perfect Russian and then smiled and groped at by “massage therapists” with perfect creamy white skin and ultra purple eyes who we gently sent on their way without any tinge of quilt. It was time to get back to the beer, and a wonder live-hop style called Uzavas of which we tried both the Bauska or Tervetas brands at two of our favorite beer taverns. These beers were some of the best hoppy beers I’ve had and highly recommend them. Latvia also does dark beers in porter and stout styles to and we sampled some of these while taking in a real Latvian lunch at a traditional restaurant Michael found here a couple of years ago. It was all dark wood and had many fireplaces and the food was served buffet style with a tray and all, which I found somewhat Las Vegasish, but real in its local feel. Latvian food tends to be heavy and dull tasting, though it should serve them well in the cold of winter. There is fish, though it tends to be cured or pickled, so my quest for a light lunch didn’t fly too well, especially after I sat down with my lightly battered chicken breast which turned out to be stuffed with ground beef and ham! Thank god for the beer, most definitely the best part of the Latvian lunch, no question.

Honestly the best food I had in Riga was had when we slipped off to an Uzbekistan restaurant in the suburbs that had great lamb and couscous, that we eat up with a pleasant Georgian red wine, though we had a few lager style local brews as well. Apart from the great beer, Latvians drink up Vodka like water in the clubs and discos, which are mostly run by the Russians still. Latvians in Riga enjoy a secret liqueur called Riga Balzam or Black Balzams, it is a hundred year old recipe that is made up of roots, flowers, herbs and various juices, it is both sweet and bitter and is an acquired taste much like some of the other herbal liqueurs found across Europe that were made by monks over the last couple hundred years or so.

Riga is an amazing city with lots of soul and life that will intrigue you and leave you mystified and place you’ll want to visit again and not just for the great beer.