Lisa Dinsmore

merlotmenu.jpgYou never forget your first love...and mine was Merlot. Up to that sip of Chilean juice all my encounters with red wine brought mouthfuls of tannic unhappiness. I had no idea red wine could taste so smooth and juicy and, yes, fruity. I remember seeking it out and buying versions from Mill Creek, Lambert Bridge and Chateau Souverain on my first trip to Sonoma. And then, overexposure hit, causing many wineries to plant Merlot where they shouldn't – just to make a quick buck – and the lack of quality made many wine lovers, like me, desert the variety and move on to other grapes. It doesn't take many mediocre versions to turn people off, especially when you're paying good money for the pleasure.

This decline happened long before Sideways. The movie just brought the problem to a national audience. Miles' cry "I'm not drinking any f**king Merlot!", while funny, was all too true for many of us everyday drinkers. This once luscious grape was ruined by rampant commercialization, which was sad for drinkers, but had to be horrifying to the wineries who considered this a flagship variety. Lucky for us the ones in it for the long haul, held on and concentrated their efforts into making wines that would turn around Merlot's maligned reputation. Or so I've heard.

I got the opportunity to see whether they succeeded at Learn About Wines "Revenge of The Merlot" tasting. While clearly devised by the wineries participating to get people talking about and tasting merlot again, it was interesting to actually hear first hand the effects, if any, they had experienced since Sideways supposedly put the nail in Merlot's coffin.

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whitewine.jpgAfter about a decade of studying and drinking wine, I've become the de facto "expert" amongst our group of friends. Which is to say I've read more wine books, taken more classes and wine tasted in more regions than them, but what I've learned is just the tip of the wine iceberg. That being said, since I have this website, I get asked a lot of questions about wine, but there are two that always seem to come up with the answers usually engendering surprise.

1) What are my favorite Napa wineries?


2) Do you really LOVE white wine? Really?

My response that I don't make a pilgrimage to Napa several times a year is akin to saying something like "I hate puppies." The shocked looks are quite amusing to me. I've been all over California, tasting in every region where wine is grown, including Napa, yet there are just other places I'd rather go. I've come up with an equation that should explain this apparent break down in my mental faculties.

(Too far away x snotty attitude + $$$$ bottle price = Unhappy Wine Traveler)

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chicago03.jpgWe usually go to Chicago once a year to see my husband's family. We rarely get into the city since they live in the suburbs, but this time around we got the chance to spend a few days downtown, much to my delight. However, we didn't have a lot of tourist time because we had volunteered to help friends of ours pour their wine at the Windy City Wine Festival, which was a 2-day, all day into the night affair.  We had one free lunch, so to speak. After watching Rick Bayless on Top Chef Masters I wanted to go to one of his restaurants, but once he won I knew getting in would be fairly impossible, especially on our tight schedule.  However, it's because of him that we went to Terzo Piano. I follow him on Twitter and one of his fans asked where he likes to eat in Chicago and this modern cafe located in the Art Institute was one of his favorites. I figured if the Top Chef Master likes it, it had to be good. It's location made it perfect since we had already planned on visiting the Art Institute – a must see when in the city – to check out an exhibit about the History of Wine. I know, I have a one-track mind.

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hollyhockhouse.jpgLos Angeles has been at the cutting edge of architecture since the beginning of the 20th century (Stiles O. Clements, Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright, Neutra), but the city and its residents haven't always appreciated the landmarks that contribute to its varied landscape. As a self-proclaimed history buff, I am ashamed that I have failed to get to know my adopted city better. Not many transplants do. Maybe the constant sunshine– or the lure of Hollywood – blinds us to the treasures to be found around every corner.

One of my recent finds was the Hollyhock House, one of four homes the prolific and infamous Frank Lloyd Wright constructed in the 1920s, using modular concrete blocks as the main form of construction. I've known of the existence of these structures– which also include the Ennis-Brown House, the Storer House (once owned by producer Joel Silver) and the Freeman House (owned by USC)– for quite some time and you'd think, since the Man and I are "fans" of Mr. Wright's work, we'd have made some effort to get a look at them over the years. We've been to his studio in Oak Park, Chicago and I've taken the tour at Taliesen West in Scottsdale, AZ (the Man golfed instead) and yet we failed to take advantage of his works in our own backyard.

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Golf is a lot of walking, broken up by disappointment and bad arithmetic.  ~Author Unknown

celebration-golf-course_1n54.jpgI wanted to enjoy golfing, I really did. My husband Dave loves the game and even though I'm not overly athletic I decided to give it a try so we'd have something fun to do on vacation. I showed promise, but my competitive nature overrode my potential, creating a seething, bitter, sullen monster on the course. I tried to laugh it off, to have positive "swing thoughts", to just enjoy the amazing natural settings I found myself in, but in the end, my failure to coax that little ball into the cup– in less than the maximum strokes allowed – got the better of me. I now know how the men he plays with every week feel.

You see, my husband's regular partner is a ringer, i.e. someone who’s unexpectedly better at a sport than they first appear and brought in to help a team win. They were past co-workers who discovered they both love to play, are able to accept the state of their games and don't mind getting up before dawn to make their tee time (something I refused to do). The fact that his partner is a woman doesn't bother him one bit. He's practically alone on that count.

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