Holiday Gift Guides: For The Entertainer

It's about that time! Gift guide mania is upon us. Whether you've already started your shopping or haven't even given it a thought yet, we have a guide for at least one person in your life. Make sure to stop by a few times in the next few weeks as we share gifts for mom, dad, health nuts, coffee addicts, the family chef and more. It has been an absolute thrill to un-box each of these gifts and try them for ourselves so there is no doubt the friends and family in your life will enjoy them just as much. 

*Lattes, Life & Luggage received products included in this gift guide complimentary for an honest review. No additional compensation was received.

Today, we start with gifts for the entertainer or probably more suitably named, the mixologist. Most hosts and hostesses are known for having a well-stocked bar. It's a convenient thing to have because everyone has a different favorite cocktail and the last thing you want to tell someone is you're fresh out of gin. Besides the fact that entertainers could always use more supplies for their bar, they're also generally the easiest to buy gifts for. What entertainer would turn their nose up at a bottle or two of wine? None that I know, that's for sure. Take a look at the gifts we have below. Hopefully one or more of these could cross someone off your shopping list.

Rum is one of the easiest liquors to mix. With the right ingredients and touch of creativity, it's easy to create a cocktail with rum that will become a party favorite. More than that, it's friendly for drinking straight or on the rocks and it's useful in the kitchen. One of the more versatile hard liquors, it's never a bad idea to have a bottle or two of rum on your hands. Bring a little sunshine into your typically cold and white holiday with Jamaican Rum from Appleton Estate. It's the perfect drink for anyone, even those who aren't big cocktail enthusiasts. Sweet, slightly citrusy and warm, it's a taste of the islands without the cost of airfare. 
Price: from $22+

Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey
You won't normally find me sipping any liquor straight or simply on the rocks. A mixer is generally necessary for me to get it down. However, in my first encounter with Hudson Whiskey, I had the opportunity to try their Baby Bourbon, Single Malt and Manhattan Rye. I'm not the type of person to go home and pour myself a whiskey neat, but I can say in full honesty that I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the flavor of the Baby Bourbon Whiskey. It's smooth, sweeter and well-blended. I have a lot of respect for the company, their process of working in small batches and local community support. Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey is the perfect gift for, yes, the entertainer but also that friend or cousin who is interested in craft whiskey and considers themselves a bourbon enthusiast. Add it to their collection so they can host tasting parties. It would also be great for food pairings and unique cocktail creations in case you know someone who is interested in mixology.
Price: from $38.99+

Natura Chilean Wine
Is wine ever a bad idea for a gift? Natura is an organic wine from Chile "inspired by nature," thus the name. The unoaked Chardonnay is about as full-bodied as a white wine can get. Strong in fruity flavors with a rich, buttery finish and hint of earthiness, it's a solid wine that can stand up to heavy holiday cooking. The Cabernet Sauvignon would be fantastic to serve with meaty dinners like a beef roast or heavy, comforting Lasagna. The perfect varietal for the person who enjoys the combination of strawberries and chocolate, Natura's Cab is sweet and tangy with a hint of spice and nice tannic finish. It's a warm-your-soul kind of wine that pairs perfectly with stick-to-your-ribs meals. In case the Chardonnay and Cab weren't enough or just not your cup of tea, Natura also makes Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Carmenere, Malbec, Rose and Syrah.

If you ask anyone who knows me, rum, whiskey and wine are the three things that I personally prefer when enjoying a drink. Wine is my go-to. I always have several bottles on hand because they're a) great gifts and b) a great solution to not having time to whip up a cocktail when company is over. Rum is my liquor of choice when I mix cocktails only second to whiskey. Something about the amber liquids warm you up on a cold winter night and relax you after a long, stressful day. They're also fantastic for cooking and baking, two things you can always find me doing.

Thanks again to all of the brands for providing these products for review. I truly believe that being able to experience a product personally allows us to better curate gift guides and reviews and give honest feedback to all of you who are reading so that we're not recommending products we wouldn't enjoy ourselves. After all, there's nothing worse than a bad or dishonest recommendation.

Napa Valley Bucket List

One day in Napa Valley isn't enough time to enjoy everything this slice of heaven has to offer. From fairy tale estates to infinite rows of vines and a bright, warm sun, it's hard to believe Napa is real. It took less than an hour for me to fall in love. One day, one tour, four tastings and one meal. Three vineyards, four wineries, one old friend and many new friends. Maybe it was the people I shared this experience with or maybe Napa has a magical quality that draws you in making you want more. I can't say for certain but what I can definitely guarantee is that I will be returning and for much longer than a day. When I make it back, these are on the top of my list of things to do.

Visit St. Helena
Driving through the valley, we passed this romantic, quaint town that I instantly fell in love with. After doing a little research, I discovered that St. Helena is one of the more popular towns within the valley. Locally owned shops and restaurants dominate main street. Local wineries and vineyards provide the best of the best wine for tastings, pairings and simply just sipping. What's most intriguing are the gorgeous bed and breakfasts and boutique inns. Why stay in a hotel when you can stay in a mansion that feels like home but even better?

Attend A Wine Pairing Dinner
Tasting wine is fun on its own but dinners with specifically designed tastings are even better. The people who put these events together know what they are doing which makes the end result nothing short of spectacular. There are seasonal pairings, themed pairings, specialty pairings. It's the ultimate foodie and vino experience. 

Visit Historical Wineries/Take A Historical Wine Tour
There are several wineries in Napa Valley that have a strong history. V. Sattui is one with a long, rich family history. One on my list is Chateau Montelena at a whopping 132 years old and known for winning the Judgement in Paris for its Chardonnay in 1976. Among many others, I'd also like to experience Schramsberg Vineyards. Over 150 years old, this winery is known for its sparkling wines and features a cave tour. 

Take a Spa Day
Of all the things to do in Wine Country, USA, you wouldn't think a spa day would be one of them. I think this is an ideal place to relax and treat yourself to a little TLC, especially on your last day. Detox from all the wine and food tasting, relax those muscles from days of walking around and treat your body so that when you return home, you're feeling ten times better than when you left. Napa Valley's travel website has a guide to the best spas with local insider tips.

Take Part In Harvest Season
Harvest season is a special time of year anywhere that has vineyards. It's a time of prosperity and celebration. There are plenty of opportunities all over the world to experience the wonderful world of harvest season and Napa Valley is one. Some places allow you to volunteer your time, others will pay you and most offer celebrations for the locals and tourists to enjoy together. That's where you'll normally find grape-stomping activities. 

Experience The Judgement Of Paris
The Judgement of Paris was a wine competition in Paris in 1976. French judges blind tasted wines from France and California and chose the best of Chardonnays and red wines. It was a big deal because France was believed to have the best of all the wines and California won many of the awards. Many of the wineries and vineyards that participated in this competition are still in business. I'd love to go on a tour of them and see what had the French all flustered.

Andretti Winery - Napa Valley, California

The final stop on our wine tour in Napa Valley is the nostalgic Andretti Winery. I've never been to Italy but I have a feeling if I went to a remote Tuscan village, Andretti would resemble it. There isn't much more for me to describe than what you'll find in these photos. The winery is surrounded by acres of vines. If you shut away all the people and just stared at the landscape, you could imagine yourself driving in Tuscany like in Letters to Juliet. It really is a breathtaking site, Napa Valley. I must sound like a broken record but the entire valley is stunning. I can't imagine living here and being unhappy. All you'd have to do is look out your window and forget about life's struggles.

Mario Andretti is a former race car driver who was born in Italy. Traveling for work led to his love of wine. When he retired in the early '90s, he decided to open his own winery. In 1996, Andretti Winery opened its doors. The winery offers tours and tastings, food and wine pairings, events and more. They have a shop with plenty of memorabilia to browse as well as foods like cheese, snacks, pairing suggestions and more. To be honest, I was happy enough just to walk around and take in the beauty of the property. 

Unfortunately, I do not have tasting notes for this winery. I didn't have a tasting sheet to take notes and it would have been difficult standing without tables. On top if it all, my phone was dying so I didn't want to drain the battery typing notes. Our hostess was knowledgeable about the history of Andretti, the wine making process and the wines they were currently selling. We tried several reds and whites and even got to taste wine still in the barrel. That was one of the more exciting experiences I've had wine tasting. 

Have you been to Andretti Winery in Napa, California? What are some of your favorite wineries and vineyards to visit?

Lincoln Park Wine Festival: Things To Do In Chicago

Dear Chicago, We would be forever grateful if you give us one beautiful, warm spring weekend. Why? Because the Lincoln Park Wine Festival is coming and we'd prefer to enjoy it dry and warm. If you don't have plans this weekend (if you do, cancel them), stop by Jonquil Park Saturday and Sunday from 1 - 6pm for a wine festival filled with live music, local artisans, tasty treats and more. See below for details:

photo c/o Lincoln Park Wine Festival 

photo c/o Lincoln Park Wine Festival 

*I received a complimentary ticket for this event. All opinions remain my own.

What: Lincoln Park Wine Festival
When: Saturday, May 21 & Sunday, May 22 from 1pm - 6pm
Where: Jonquil Park
1001 West Wrightwood Avenue, Chicago
Tickets HERE 
(use code'LLL' for $5 general admission tickets either day)

Listen to brand ambassadors and sommeliers talk about the latest trends, varietals, tips and more. The festival will include food and wine pairings, artists as well as products and services from wine-related vendors. 

General Admission Tickets include:
- Wristband for event entry
- 12-1.5 oz tasting tickets
Cost: $50

VIP Admission Tickets include:
- Wristband for event entry
- 12 standard tasting tickets + 5 tasting tickets for the premium VIP wine area
- Stemmed commemorative wine glass
Cost: $75

2-Day Tasting Package includes:
- Wristband for entry on each day
- 12-1.5 oz tasting tickets per day
- One souvenir glass each day
Cost: $90

Purchase your tickets HERE and use code 'LLL' for $5 off general admission tickets on Saturday or Sunday.

V. Sattui Winery - Napa Valley, California

Tucked away in St. Helena, California is a charming, magical place called V. Sattui. This winery and vineyard is actually the father of Castello di Amorosa. The Sattui Family opened for business in 1885 which would make it their 131st anniversary this year. It is obvious visiting both V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa that this family loves what they do. It is their passion and it reflects on the experience guests enjoy at both properties. 

V. Sattui is much smaller than Castillo di Amorosa but just as magnificent. The property includes a stone winery, Artisan Deli & Marketplace, tasting rooms, picnic grounds and more. We had lunch at the deli where they serve paninis, cheese, snacks, meats, salads, pasta and more. They had jumbo Arancini when we visited that were spectacular. I'm talking melt in your mouth, creamy, comforting deliciousness. My friend and I each got a panini and split them so we could taste both. One had prosciutto (a favorite of mine) and the other was either bresaola or soppressata but I can't remember. Regardless, it was all delicious and the few cheeses we had the luxury of tasting were phenomenal as well.

V. Sattui has a large tasting room with plenty of space to sip wine, browse around and enjoy yourself. The servers are friendly and accommodating. They also make fantastic recommendations. Here are the wines that I tasted while visiting V. Sattui. I hope you're enjoying the photos as well!

Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
The Sauvignon Blanc carried notes of pear and apple on the nose and I could easily tell this was a dry wine. It was smooth with a dry finish and I was able to get notes of green apple on the tongue.
From V. Sattui: Time spent in their concrete egg brings a mineral character to the wine along with a richness and fines on the mount. Oak barrels bring silk texture on the mount and just the slightest hint of spice and vanilla. 

Off-Dry Riesling
Riesling has become my favorite white wine (aside from the hard to find Sancerre) because of it's diversity. This particular varietal carried pear, apricot and peach notes to the nose. It was smooth and I tasted pear, white peach and apple notes. Very refreshing.
From V. Sattui: Their White Riesling has intense tropical fruit aromas with clean, green apple, honey and apricot flavors. Its finish is softly floral, rich and opulent.

Gamay Rouge
A quick whiff of the Gamay Rouge hinted at an uber sweet wine full of fruity flavor, especially strawberry and peach. It was fuller in body on the tongue, incredibly sweet (as predicted) and carried strong notes of strawberry, raspberry and watermelon. This would be a great dessert wine or aperitif.
From V. Sattui: Fruit flavors and relatively high acids are balanced by a slight natural sweetness derived from the juice of the grapes. 

Ramazzotti Vineyard Zinfandel
The Zinfandel was a bold, strong red. I was able to pick up berry notes on the nose and a peculiar sweetness. The taste turned out surprisingly different with a peppery quality, bold plum flavor and light notes of currant. It was also very tannic. Zinfandel is not my favorite red typically. Where I didn't dislike this one, I wouldn't pick it again if given the choice.
From V. Sattui: Intensely varietal, with dark cherry and blackberry flavors that develop intense complexity, there is also deftly applied oak that lends a trip of sweet spice. Pair with smoked meats or your summer barbecues.

Syrah, Napa Valley
I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the Syrah. This was another bold red. There were scents of currant, date, blueberry and dirt. It sounds weird but the more earthy wines can have a, well, an earthy quality to them. I picked up pepper, plum and black cherry on the tongue as well as earthy elements as if it were just pulled out of the ground. I loved the grit (not literal) that this red brought.
From V. Sattui: Contributes a ripe, chocolatey profile, along with sweet blueberry.

Entaglement (GSM)
Entanglement was delicious, possibly one of my favorites from this tasting. I noticed scents of licorice and berries as well as floral notes. On the tongue, I picked up cherry and plum as well as a slightly tannic quality. This is a great red for those who might not be fully pulled over to the dark side yet and still favor whites.
From V. Sattui: This delicious blend is a lighter style wine with flavors of red vine licorice styled after the GSM blends from the Rhone region in France. 

Cabernet, Napa Valley
I am not normally a fan of Cabernet but I did enjoy this one. I was able to note scents of berry, cherry and dried fruit. Tasting, it had a spicy personality with notes of pepper, plum, black cherry and earth (yes, again). It was also tannic. If you don't like that puckery, dry feeling on your tongue when drinking red wine this one isn't for you. However, if you like spicy, bold reds this is perfect for you.
From V. Sattui: Captures a good measure of currant fruit and colors it with sweet oak, a bit of dusty spice and hints of black olive. 

V. Sattui is a fantastic winery to visit for all levels of tasters. Whether you're tasting just for fun or seriously rating your wine, the staff are incredibly accommodating and they even have special tastings where you can taste limited releases and specialty bottles. I highly recommend coming here for lunch and looking up events they might be having. They offer freshly made brick-oven pizza some nights with a bonfire and that is right up my alley!

Cooking With Stanley 57

What better way to end an incredible journey than with a few sweets? To wrap up a long but rewarding 16 months of massive cooking, I'm sharing three desserts that you'll want to try for yourself. I know I've talked about how it's hard to imagine that Cooking With Stanley would be ending soon but now that it's over, it's more odd than I had previously imagined. Making time for family dinners each week had become a staple in my family so that I could spend the whole day cooking a lavish meal we'd have far too many leftovers from. Before I reflect too much, let's get into these desserts. There will be time for that later.

Ricotta with Fruit
Peaches & Wine

The Ricotta with Fruit reminded me of Peaches and Cream only with berries. The raspberry sauce that half this recipe consists of was delicious. It's fantastic to serve on top of cake, ice cream, anything really. I must have made a mathematical error in cutting the recipe when it came to the Ricotta because it was very thin. It didn't taste bad, it was just too much of a liquid which is why this reminded me of peaches and cream. I feel like it would have been just fine with whole berries and fruit. 

I could kick myself when it comes to the Peaches & Wine. I could have sworn I took photos of this dessert but I can't find them anywhere. The only one I have is of them on the table for Mother's Day. It turns out exactly as it sounds. Peeled and sliced peaches are soaked in wine and a little sugar for a few hours before served. I used a Grenache wine but I think it would have been even better served with a sweet red like Red Moscato. It was fantastic on top of the cake you see in the picture which is coming up in a blog post in the next few weeks. 

Tiramisu is a dessert that I love but have never attempted to make. It has several steps that are critical to how it turns out, one of which includes dunking cookies in an espresso rum mixture. Here's a tip, dunk the cookies very quick so they don't get too wet. Otherwise you'll have what I like to call drunk Tiramisu, strong but soggy. It turned out pretty good for my first try. I wish I would have grabbed better photos but I guess it wasn't in the cards for this guy.

How do these desserts sound to you? Stop by later this week to read my reflection on the entire Cooking With Stanley series and find what my favorite moments and meals were.

Castello di Amorosa - Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley is a wine aficionado's oasis. Wine tasting is more than just drinking as many wines as possible. It teaches you the history of that particular bottle from the grape to the winery owner. You learn about terroir, the process of fermentation, the aging details (for reds) and so much more. There's a lot of love put into a bottle starting with planting a seed. Wine tells a story. It tells the story of the people who make it, the land it comes from, the region it's home to. As enjoyable it is to drink, it's even more rewarding to accept all it has to offer. 

Castello di Amorosa is a beautiful, chateau-like property in the town of Calistoga located in Napa Valley. The property took fourteen years to build and was designed to resemble a 13th century Tuscan castle. I've never been to Tuscany but I imagine this is what it would look like (I have seen Letters to Juliet). The estate has 107 rooms, 8 levels above and below ground, a great hall with magnificent Italian frescoes, a drawbridge and moat plus so much more. The vineyards of Castello di Amorosa feature Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Primitivo and Sangiovese grapes.

The property is one of the most beautiful I've seen. Even in the cold, wet morning we had, there was a warmth throughout the place. The tasting experience was fantastic. Our server, Ortega, was a blast: funny, intelligent and just a great personality. He provided several great recommendations, all which I share below. Castello di Amorosa was a memorable experience that has me dreaming to return asap. I recommend it whether you're visiting for a few hours or a few days. 

Here are the wines that I sampled at Castello di Amorosa. Not all have descriptions from the property but they all have my personal notes:

Pinot Grigio
The Pinot Grigio had a sweet start with pear and apple notes but a dry finish. Refreshing and light, this wine had just enough flavor to not be too overpowering as the first sip of the day.

GIOIA, Roasato di Sangiovese
There were strong strawberry notes easily noticeable both on the nose and the tongue. It was very sweet, almost candy-like but delicious. I would serve this as a dessert wine or aperitif on a warm day. 
From Castello di Amorosa: Gioia (Italian for "Joy") is an Italian style rose with a beautiful rosy-red garnet color, bursting with bright wild berry and melon flavors A perfect summer sipping wine.

2012 Merlot
In full discretion, I have yet to meet a Merlot that I enjoy. Apparently that is offensive in Napa Valley because they're known for it? Ortega insisted I try their Merlot because tasting a Merlot in its place of birth is different from, say, Chicago. I gave it a shot. While it wasn't as awful an experience as I normally have with Merlot, it wasn't terrible. I noticed cranberry and plum notes and it was strong with tannins. I wouldn't personally choose this wine for dinner but I know several people in my family who would.
From Castello di Amorosa: A flavorful dry Merlot with excellent depth and balance, with notes of black cherry, mocha and spice, and a smooth dark chocolate aftertaste.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
I have the Cab marked as a favorite and man, was it tasty. It was very tannic and I personally noticed berry, plum and peppery notes. The cinnamon and nutmeg were a surprising and welcoming touch that I enjoyed. This is a fantastic wine for cold nights. It will warm you right up!
From Castello di Amorosa: A bold and balanced Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, exhibiting aromas of cassis, earth and mushroom accented with spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and tinder box.

2012 Sangiovese
The Sangiovese was a bold and slightly dry wine with notes of plum and oak. I liked the subtlety of the oak. It gave the wine an earthy taste. It was also tannic which I used to hate but have noticed I'm enjoying more as I get older and expand my comfort zone with wine. This was another favorite of mine.
From Castello di Amorosa: Perfumed aromas of dried flowers, red plum, sweet exotic spices and wild berry flavors framed by supple, toasty oak.

La Fantasia
This darker rose smells sweet and most definitely tastes sweet. It had a beautiful flavor profile: floral notes mixed with tart cherries and sweet berries. This would be fantastic cold on a warm day with bitter, dark chocolate or a fruit salad.
From Castello di Amorosa: An Italian style soft sparkling wine which is lower in alcohol, naturally sweet and refreshing with bright aromas of cherry, exotic flowers and wild berries.

If you're looking for a high-level tasting experience, I strongly recommend Castello di Amorosa. My tasting experiences in Napa Valley were through a tour my friend and I went on but I'm certain that if I planned out my own day in this beautiful valley, this would have made the top of my list. Have you been to Napa Valley or Castello di Amorosa? What are your favorite wines to taste while participating in a tasting?

My friend Ilana and I with Ortega.

My friend Ilana and I with Ortega.

A Taste Of France In California

If I could travel anywhere in the world, you know I would be on the first flight to Europe. It's not currently in the budget but Napa Valley comes close to what the Loire Valley in France. This beautiful piece of paradise on the west coast is what dreams are made of. Napa boasts plenty of wine, beautiful landscapes and breathtaking sunsets. It's central location is located close enough to the city, the beach, trails and more. 

Unfortunately, my time in Napa was kept short to just a day but we covered quite a bit of ground. Four wineries and vineyards, plenty of tastings and just enough food had us occupied as much as we could be. Though the weather started out rainy and cold, it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day by late morning. We drove through the valley and passed a few towns that I am dying to return and explore like St. Helena. 

Driving through Napa Valley is remarkable with all the mansions and estates. Most are wineries and vineyards but others are homes like that of Nora Roberts. Rows and rows of vines add an almost calming touch to the area. It's truly an incredible experience and the closest thing I've come to the Loire Valley since I've been home from France. Is it too much to ask for a small cottage on a hill so I can sip my morning coffee overlooking the sunrise? Napa is its own little part of the world where life moves a little slower with a bit more joy for assured happiness.

The wineries visited on our tour included Castello di Amorosa, V. Sattui Winery, Folie A Deax Napa Cellars and Andretti Winery. I wouldn't normally pick favorites but Castello di Amorosa was a dream. Built like a French chateau, it looks as though it had been around for hundreds of years. Imagine that!? V. Sattui was fantastic as well and I particularly enjoyed our tasting here. The server was nice and let us try a few extra wines. He also catered them to our preferences, especially when we couldn't decide on what to order.

I have much more to share from my Napa Valley day trip so stay tuned for more posts to follow. Have you ever been to Napa Valley? Make sure to catch up on my time in San Franscisco. Follow me on Instagram for the latest trip I'm taking, recipe I'm whipping up or whatever other shenanigans I'm up to.