Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Two Weeks in Italy

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Como and Tuscany, October 2019

I’ve been to Italy more than a half dozen times with family and friends, and it’s always been great.  It’s just a happy place.  How can it not be with the vast trove of art, excellent food, amazing views, great people and astounding architecture.  The last time I was in Tuscany was 2014.  There is a write up about that trip buried about 10 postings back, so I won’t repeat myself with any of the background information.  I will include highlights of the trip chronologically with some favorite photos in between.  I got an iPhone 11 Pro just before I left for the trip and I took thousands of amazing photos.  I cut them down to about a hundred of the ones I felt were either unusual, culturally interesting or just plain beautiful.

I will try to include names of the places we visited in case anyone wants to put a similar trip together.  We did the whole trip by car.  Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to . . . the tolls, narrow roads, and those crazy drivers that pass you going over 150 km/hr.  But it gave us the ability to change our plans on a daily basis if we wanted to spend more or less time in a specific town.  Thank you Google maps and GPS.

This time, including my wife and family members and friends, there were 6 of us on the excursion.  We flew into Milan and drove to the Lake Como area.   After flying all night, it was a bit of a white-knuckle drive into the mountains on VERY narrow streets, many with stone walls on both sides.   We stayed in Bellagio at the hotel Fioroni.  It was a good location just about a mile away from the town center, where the ferries stopped.  About all we could handle the first evening was a stroll and a great meal at an open-air, waterside restaurant.  Now that I think of it more than 75% of our meals were Al Fresco.  We went the second half of October so the crowds were gone, the weather was pleasantly cool and we lucked out with very little rain.

The Como area is at the foothills of the alps which provide an amazing backdrop for the views.  The area has been a favorite vacation spot and retreat since Roman times.   Lake Como is glacial and shaped like an inverted “V”.  It is about 30 miles long, very deep >1300 feet and quite clear with the bottom of the lake >600 feet below sea level.  The deep valley and lake make the climate more temperate than the surrounding area.  Ferries zig-zag across the lake between a number of interesting towns.  We got hop-on hop-off all-day ferry passes, a very convenient way to visit all the towns.  Day two we were able to visit all the towns on the upper half of the lake:  Varenna, Menaggio, Lenno, and Tremezzo where there is a nice museum and gardens at the Villa Carolotta.   Yes, that is a lot of towns for one day, but our day didn’t seem rushed, the ferries are frequent, and the towns are small.

The next day was a travel day with rain all day so we didn’t waste any good weather.   We stayed the next five days in Tuscany at The Villa de Fabbiolle, 34, in Impurneta.  It is on about 50 acres back a one lane road, quiet and restful. Restoration was performed from about 2000 to 2015 by the family who has owned it for a number of generations.  There is a full kitchen, inside/outside sitting rooms, five bedrooms, washer/drier, etc.  The three-foot-wide foundations go back to the 1200’s and the old section of the building dates to the 14th century.  The fireplace, roof, timbers and patio were added in the 1600’s.  The first evening the owners treated us to a great five course dinner.

Of course, Tuscany is known for the tall, cypress trees that come in two types, skinny and not so skinny.  Another symbol of Tuscany is the wild boar.  You can see boar’s heads as decorations in many of the small souvenir and food stores.  We were told that there are more than a million boars in Tuscany.  They hunt them in the winter trying to keep them under control as they are a scourge for the wineries since they like to eat the grapes.

Impurneta is central to some very important hill towns in Tuscany.  That’s why we used it as our base for 5-6 days.  On one side of the central square is the Basilica de Santa Maria, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria. The Basilica dates from 1060.  It was bombed out by the Allies in 1944 during WWII but is nicely restored and worth a visit.

The next morning, we were off early to Siena.  I had visited Siena on my previous trip but it’s a city one doesn’t tire of.  We parked near the sports stadium and took an endless set of escalators up to the old town where there are a number of very nice museums and churches.  I enjoyed eating again at the huge Piazza del Campo Pubblico.  I even spent some time people watching from a second story bistro.   The most impressive Duomo is the Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral di Santa Maria, something not to miss.

We hired a driver for our next day of wine tastings.  Our first stop was the nicely restored hill town of San Gimignano.  The impressive Cathedral, Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta, has the Santa Fina Chapel to the right side with frescoes entirely lining the walls.  They depict stories of the old and new testaments and were painted by illustrious artists of the Sienese School of the 14th century, notably Domenico Ghirlandaio.  The chapel also houses a number of relics of Saint (Sera) Fina.  I was amazed all week by the meticulous detailed restorations everywhere you look in every town. 

Our next stop was the family owned and operated Castello Monterinaldi winery.  We had a very nice lunch and tasting followed by a very interesting tour.  The grape harvest was only a week or two before so they were in the fermentation step.  This winery first just de-stems the grapes and puts them into cement fermentation tanks.  The grapes are gently crushed as the must is pumped out and back into the tanks every few days.  They were also experimenting with ceramic fermentation tanks, they called it old school.  Aging is of course in Oak.  

We then stopped at another family owned winery, the Casa Emma Vineyard.  The vineyard was bought in the 70’ss by Fiorella Lepri and named in honor of the previous owner, Emma Bizzarri.  Their methods were similar to what I have seen in California with large stainless-steel equipment for crushing and fermentation.  They were in the process of replanting some of their grape vines.  They remove the vines after about 50 years when the yields fall and then it takes about 5-6 years for the new vines to produce.  They were replanting some fields with Merlot and Cabernet.  As with most wineries they have olive trees and make olive oil as well as wine.

Sangiovese grapes can, of course, be grown anywhere but only Sangiovese grown in Tuscany can be called Chianti.  Chianti or Super Tuscany carries no specific rules. However Chianti Classico Appellation DOCG is covered by rules set up in 1714 and must be 80% Sangiovese grown in Tuscany.  The Classico always has a black rooster on the bottle neck which is the symbol of the whole Chianti area.

We noticed there were as many olive orchards as grape vineyards.  It turns out olives combines well with wine making.  Harvests and processing alternate and we saw them starting to pick olives while the wine was fermenting and aging.  Olives can be pressed immediately for oil but for eating the olives have to be soaked in water for 30-60 days, changing water weekly.  Then soaked in salt water for 30-60 days, changing salt water weekly.  I’m sure there is much more to it than that. 

The next day we drove to the tram that took us to the Frienze train station, within walking distance of the old town.  What can you (not) say about Frienze?….Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore, The David, Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Repubblica….the cradle of the Renaissance, and of course, Ponte Vecchio, the medieval bridge over the Arno river, now home to jewelers, and art dealers.  There are so many churches and museums that a week couldn’t do it justice.  The Uffizi was overwhelming to me.  I took so many photos of amazing renaissance paintings and statues that it was numbing.  I started going through the galleries faster and faster just to make it out!!!!  The statues in the Plazzo Vecchio are a treat.   When we got back to the Duomo the sun was setting and the photos of the sunlight on the upper part of the structure were amazing.  The inside was equally remarkable.  We had dinner al fresco facing the front of the Cathedral.

We took a break from our hectic pace by next visiting a small hill town, Fiesole, several miles North of Frienze.  We had a beautiful view of the whole valley and the Domo in the distance.  There is a very nice restored church in the town but the real attraction for me was the Convento San Francesco, the San Francisco Monastery, founded in 1399.  The monastery is a long walk to the top of the hill.  For me the tiny semi-restored rooms that the monks lived and prayed in were most interesting.  The rooms had a small wooden plank bed on the one side and a desk or alter on the other side, and that’s it!  You could just imagine what it was like for them 600 years ago.

Next on our agenda was the town of Assisi, home to Saint Francis and Saint Clare.  It lies in the Umbria region of the province of Perugia.  My best overall description of Assisi is a hill town on steroids.  It’s huge and has seemingly countless Churches and Basilicas.  We drove right into the heart of the old part of the city and since it was off season at the last minute we were able to get rooms at the beautiful Hotel Giotto Assisi, Via Fontebella, built in 1899.  On our first day there we visited about 6 churches; mind boggling.  The most memorable was the 13th century Saint Clare, Basilica de Santa Chiara, with a beautiful pink and white façade.  The Basilica also contains the remains of Saint Clare.

The next day was simply amazing.  First was the Saint Francis Cathedral and Monastery consecrated in 1253.  Its 13th-century frescoes portray the life of St. Francis and are attributed to Giotto and Cimabue.  It’s actually two massive churches one built orthogonally on top of the other.  You don’t realize there is another church above you when you are in the bottom one, The public is not permitted in the massive Monastery.  Monks are everywhere.

We next drove to the nearby town of Santa Maria to see the Church of Devine Marie of the Angels, built in the 16th century.  It is famous for the “church within a church” or the Porziuncola which dates to the 9th century and is the church where St Francis founded the Franciscan movement.  It is actually a tiny church inside the huge Basilica and many priests were inside praying.

My final remembrance of Assisi was the massive Rocca Maggiore which is built at the very highest point of the town.  It is a partially restored, 14th century castle built atop the ruins of a Roman fort.  I can’t imagine building such a structure so long ago at such an inaccessible location.  Somehow, we found a one lane, harrowing road to the top.  You can look down at the many sights of Assisi through the actual narrow “windows” that were used to shoot arrows at anyone foolish enough to attack.

One of the most remarkable happenings was saved for the next to the last day.  My wife wanted to get the birth and marriage certificates of her great grandparents who immigrated to the USA around 1900.  They came from a small mountain town called Berceto which is in the Apennine Mountains in the Emilia-Romagna region.  I have to say I was skeptical of a positive outcome since little preparation had been made.  We arrived on the afternoon of October 31, in heavy, heavy fog earlier than planned.

We found out from the innkeeper where we were staying that the town records building would be closed the next day for All Saints Day.  We hurried over to the municipal building to find a small room surrounded by closets and shelves filled with very old hand-written journals and a man who really knew his job.  After pouring through these hundred-year-old records for about an hour he miraculously produced the birth and marriage records for her great grandparents!   He efficiently typed the information into his computer and produced official records, along with copies from the old records, with the town stamp for all three documents.  The next stop was the church and the actual alter where they were married.  Amazing!!!

On our last day we stopped in Parma and visited the Duomo with its amazing illusionistic fresco of the assumption by Antonio da Correggio.  It is believed to be built on the site of a Basilica from around 600.  The church construction started in 1059, but the structure received heavy damage caused by a powerful earthquake in 1117 and had to be rebuilt.

Back from our trip, we enjoyed the famous dried ham sausages, cheeses, wine and olive oil. It was a wonderful trip that we will always remember.

Well those are the highlights of our trip.  As I mentioned I could only include a small fraction of  the marvelous photos I took during the trip.  I have provided very short captions with the location or name.  It was very hard for me to pick out the most special part of the trip.  Perhaps the Roman ruin at the top of Assisi?  Or the Monk’s tiny living quarters of the Convento San Francesco in Fiesole?  Or obtaining the >100-year-old birth and marriage records?  Or one of the other amazing finds?   That is the mark of a special trip, many favorites. This was about my 8th trip to Italy and all have been great.  Italy is filled with amazing art and architecture, great food and as I always say, happy people.

Ralph Obenauf 4/2020

SPEX 60th Anniversary Wines Win Gold and Silver Medals!

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

SPEX 60th Anniversary Wine Awards

SPEX 60th Anniversary Wines Win Gold and Silver Medals!!!

The SPEX 60th anniversary wines were entered in the wine making competition sponsored by “Wine Maker International Magazine”. There were about 50 different categories ranging from various whites to many different reds to sparkling wines. In total there were thousands of entries.

I’m proud to announce that our wines won two awards:

SPEX 2013 Chilean Merlot won a gold medal, the highest award, in the Merlot Category

SPEX 2013 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon won a silver medal in the highly competitive Cabernet Sauvignon Category

Obie’s Wines: 2002 – 2014

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Obies Wines: 2002 - 2014

# Wine Grapes Blend Vintage Year Origin # Gallons Comments
47 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 70%-30% 2013 Chile 60 SPEX Wine
46 Cabernet Sauvignon --- 2014 California 60  
45 Nebbiola-Barbara-P Sirah 50%-40%-10% 2014 California 60 Barolo
44 Malbec --- 2013 Argentinia 50  
43 Cabernet Sauvignon --- 2013 Chile 60 SPEX 60th anniversary
42 Merlot --- 2013 Chile 53 SPEX 60th anniversary
41 Sangiovese-Merlot-Cabernet 50%-25%-25% 2013 California 60 Super Tuscany
40 Sangiovese-Merlot-Cabernet 33%-33%-33% 2013 California 60 Trivino
39 Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah 70%-30% 2012 California 53  
38 Grenache-Cabernet-P Syrah --- 2012 California 60 Chateanueuf-du-Pape, Splits
37 Cabernet Sauvignon --- 2012 California 60 Lanza Vinyards
36 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 60%-40% 2012 California 60  
35 Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah 60%-20%-20% 2012 Chile 60  
34 Grenache-Cabernet-P Syrah --- 2011 California 60 Chateanueuf-du-Pape
33 Sangiovese-Merlot-Cabernet 33%-33%-33% 2011 California 60 Trivino
32 Cabernet-Merlot-Cab Franc --- 2011 California 60  
31 Cabernet-Cab Franc-Syrah 50%-25%-25% 2011 Chile 60  
30 Cabernet-Merlot-Cab Franc-Malbec --- 2010 California 60 Splits
29 Amarone --- 2010 Italy 60 Juice
28 Sangiovese-Merlot-Cabernet 80%-10%-10% 2010 California 60 Trivino
27 Cabernet-Cab Franc 70%-30% 2010 California 60  
26 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Carmeniere 60%-10%-30% 2010 California 60  
25 Tempranillo-Cabernet-Merlot 60%-25%-15% 2009 California 60 Won Bronze medal
24 Sangiovese-Merlot-Cabernet 50%-25%-25% 2009 California 60 Super Tuscany - Won Gold medal
23 Cabernet-Merlot-Cab Franc 55%-35%-10% 2009 California 60 Bordeaux Blend
22 Grenache-Cabernet-P Syrah-Alicante --- 2009 California 60 Chateanueuf-du-Pape
21 Cabnernet-Syrah 70%-30% 2009 Chile 60 Won Bronze medal
20 Sangiovese-Merlot-Cabernet 50%-25%-25% 2008 California 60 Super Tuscany
19 Cabernet-Merlot-Sangiovese 33%-33%-33% 2008 California 60 Trivino
18 Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec 70%-30% 2008 California 60  
17 Zinfindel, Old Vine --- 2007 California 60  
16 Grenache, Cab-Mer-Cab Franc-Malbec --- 2007 California 60 Chateanueuf-du-Pape
15 Cabernet-Merlot-Cab Franc 33%-33%-33% 2007 California 60 Sanatra Blend
14 Merlot --- 2006 Chile 60  
13 Zinfindel --- 2006 California 60  
12 Nebbiolo-Barbera-Petite Sirah 50%-40%-10% 2006 California 60 Barolo
11 Cabernet-Malbec 70%-30% 2006 Chile 60  
10 Ruby Cabnernet --- 2005 California 53  
9 Chardonay --- 2005 California 53 From Juice
8 Cabnernet-Syrah 70%-30% 2005 California 60  
7 Cabernet-Carmenere 70%-30% 2005 Chile 53  
6 Chardonay --- 2004 California 53  
5 Zinfandel --- 2004 California 60  
4 Cabernet-Malbec 70%-30% 2004 Chile 53  
3 Cabernet-Merlot 70%-30% 2003 California 60  
2 Grenache, Cab-Mer-Cab Franc-Malbec --- 2003 California 60 Chateanueuf-du-Pape
1 Zinfandel --- 2002 California 60  

London Downtown… interesting places (Updated!)

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Restaurants and Wine Bars

Gordon’s wine bar… A MUST, basement down Villiers St. next to Charring Cross Station. Very old, buy a bottle and drink it in the arched candle lit rooms or outside in the courtyard.

Bedford & Strand Wine Bar… 1A Bedford Street just off the Strand near Charing Cross, nice selections and atmosphere.  Not as crowded.

Bibimpap Korean restaurant in SOHO at 11 Greek Street London, W1D 4DJ  (020 7287 3434) 2 streets away from Ronnie Scott’s.  Very casual. Cheap and cheerful, queue in the evening.  Try Kimchi Pancake, Pork & Vegetable Mandoo and raw beef and egg Bibimpap.  Bibimpap cooks itself in a very hot stone bowl as served.

Bierschenke, German Bier Kellar at the corner of The Strand and Essex Street across from the Royal Courts of Justice, lots of Barristers, 020 7936 2536

Café Des Amis… upscale wine bar near royal Opera House and Covent Garden, Bow St to Horal to 11 Hanover Place (alley) 020 7379 3444

Café Pacifico Mexican bar and restaurant… 5 Langley St, Covent Garden WC2H 9JA, near Covent Garden tube station,  020 7379 7728,

CnR Malaysian restaurant in the heart of China town near the W hotel, Leicester Square.

4 Rupert Court W1D 6DY very small side street off Rupert Street near the W and pizza express).   Try the Roti Canai and Singapore Laksa if you don’t know what to order

Cork and Bottle Wine Bar… almost as neat as Gordon’s….wider wine and food selections.  In the basement with interesting little carved-out rooms.  44-46 Cranbourn St. Just off Leicester’s Square near the tube stop.

Cicchetti, fine Italian food and dining, 215 Piccadilli, London W1J 9HL, 020 7494 9435,

Covent Garden, nice wine bar/restaurant in bottom of stall area, great restaurants and pubs.

Daly’s Wine Bar, at the corner of The Strand and Essex Street across from the Royal Courts of Justice, better wines.  Owner Gerry Hanratty, 020 7583 4476  Lots of lawyers.

Dirty Dick’s Pub, near the Liverpool Street Station, financial district,  (One of) The oldest Pubs in London, est 1745.

Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilli (downstairs) wine bar;  red and white flights, live music.

Great Queen Street, Queen Street… Traditional English food

La Perla Mexican Bar… 28 Maiden Lane WC2, near Covent Garden.  Mexican food and drinks.  Also Café Pacifico…  5 Langley Street WC2  Locations in Paris also.

Little Italy Ristorante/Bar across the street from Ronnie Scott’s, 21 Firth St.,  London W1D 4RN  0207 734 4737

Madeira Portuguese Restaurant, open until 2am, live music.  Vuxhall station Embankment.

Wahaca Mexican Market Eating… Neuvo Mexican, Maiden Lane Covent Garden

Rules Resturant, 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden,  020 7836 5314, Horse themed, claims to be the oldest running restaurant in London, also great cocktail bar upstairs

The Ritz Hotel, THE RITZ near Piccadilly Circus.  Marvelous décor, great high tea but have a cocktail right at the cocktail bar so you can watch the cocktail preparers preform their art.

The Savoy Hotel on The Strand is a famous old hotel and really neat to just go, have a glass of wine in the New York Bar and take in the atmosphere.  Be sure to check out the “historical display” on the way to the bar with artifacts from all the stars of yester year that stayed there, Monroe, Astaire, Gable to name a few.

The Wolseley restaurant, 160 Piccadilly, 020 7499 6996, great atmosphere located in the old Woseley motor car showroom.


Interesting Places & Music

Camden Town, lots of “crazy” young people too much “flea market” to imagine, ethnic food, old London Locks/Boats, very crowded on weekends…

Covent Garden, good shops, stalls, good street performers

There is a series of markets near Liverpool tube stop that are similar to Camden Town:  Old Spitalfields Market, the Brickline Market, Petticoat Lane Market, and the High Sunday Market.  New and old things and lots of ethnic food from everywhere in a very crowded and diverse neighborhood. Mostly only open on Sunday.

Near Spitalfields is the “Market Coffee House” with jazz every Monday starting at 7:30, 50 Brushfield St.  020 7247 4110

Great Indian restaurant district near the Sunday markets on Brick Street.  Go to the Aldgate East tube stop, down Whitechaple to Osborn which becomes Brick Street. Try Aladin among all the other eateries that try to talk you in as you walk down the street.

SOHO, “Bohemian” area, very, very interesting people watching, china town… be careful

Ronnie Scott’s, premier jazz club of London. Frith street in SOHO, go to listen not great food, some great acts open late book in advance at

Jazz After Dark, in SOHO, 9 Greek St W1D 4DQ, small venue with live music open late Tuesday through Saturday, book in advance.  020 7734 0545, 077 7480 3328

Carnaby Street, Oxford Circus, good shopping, trendy shops, Liberty dept store, great Soccer/Rugby store, interesting pubs

“Ain’t ‘nuthin But” Blues club on Kingly St., near Oxford Circus and Carnaby Street, young crowd, somewhat seedy,  may not like it, local blues bands, open mike Sunday starts 4pm.

“Spice of life” Blues, Cambridge Circus, Tuesdays

“Adelaide Road Pub, blues, Clark Farm tube station, Tuesdays

“Heathcote Public House” blues jam Leytonestone tube station, E11 bus, Wednesday

“Globe Public House”, blues, Morning Lane E8, Monday

“Town Hall”, blues, Mare St., Bethnal Green tube station, Bu 254

Tourist musts…Greenwich observatory museum, take the Thames river boat shuttle, great views, stand on the prime meridian, read about the longitudinal clocks before you go, I love mechanical antiques.  Tower military museum, really great dark ages armament neat tour by the beefeaters, royal jewels.  Westminster Chapel, very historic.  War rooms.

A Week in Tuscany… Put It on Your Bucket List

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra, Manarola from the Water

Our group, actually 22 people, recently spent a week in Tuscany. It was well beyond, and very different from, my expectations and I would recommend it to anyone. What you will find is lush rolling hills, a temperate climate, interesting hill towns, culture and fine art… and of course great food and wine.

Tuscany is a product or it’s history and civilizations. The Apennine culture dominated the late second millennium BC, followed by the Villanovan culture (1100–700 BC). Tuscany, and the rest of Etruria, was then dominated by City-states before the Etruscan civilization rose in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Then came the Romans in the first century AD followed by the medieval period. Tuscany (Florence) is often referred to as the birthplace of the Renaissance. I didn’t realize how many people died in the “black death” which started in 1348, 50% of the population overall and up to 75% in some cities.

We spent about two weeks in Italy but “the group” all stayed at Villa Ponte in Bettolle for 7 days (previously called Il Casale Del Marchese or La Bandita). The villa dates back to the 18th century but has been beautifully restored and the manager/chef, Gian Luca, is a hoot. While at the villa we did day trips on our own, mostly by car.

Below is the list of towns and places visited:

Cinque Terra:
Actually 5 towns on the Italian Riviera, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. It’s a fairy tale land with multicolored houses built on the steep hills and terraced gardens. Take the (underground) train and the ferry. Be prepared for lots of walking up and down the steps.


1929 Mercedes

1929 Mercedes SSK in the Mille Miglia

A very quaint walled city. We just happened to be there on the day that the 1000 Miglia, passed through town. The Mille Miglia started in 1927 as an open road endurance race and is now limited to cars made before 1957. I lost count at 100 vintage racing cars.

Castello Banfi and Banfi Wines:
A very large vineyard and winery producing 12 million bottles per year… olive oil. We had a tour then a great lunch in the restored castle.

Yet another quaint hill town/commune famous for the Brunello di Montalcino wine made from the sangiovese grosso grapes grown within the commune.


Siena Cathedral

The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral

Spend some time people watching in the Palazzo Pubblico where the Palio horse race is held twice a year. The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral is a must see as well as the home of Saint Catherine of Siena, one of the two patron saints of Italy.


Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio on the Arno River; Get out Your Wallet

What can you say about Florenza?….Santa Maria del Fiore, The David, Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Repubblica….the cradle of the Renaissance. And of course Ponte Vecchio, the Medieval bridge over the Arno river, now home to jewelers, art dealers and souvenir shops.

Bagni San Filippo:
Hot springs, a great surprise and change of pace. We “sort of” stumbled on hot springs that were a bit of a hike back into the woods and with few other people there. There was a series of rustic pools people had damned up going down the hill with the top pool at the source about 96 degrees F.

A hill town/commune with beautiful panoramic views. The town was originally called Corsignano, the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Picolomini who later became Pope Pius II and entirely rebuilt it as an ideal renaissance town.


Bridge To Civita

Don’t take the bridge to Civita if you are afraid of Heights

A very interesting hill town, less restored then the others because it was isolated for years after the original land bridge collapsed. You can still see Etruscan caves in the area. I got vertigo for the first time in my life while walking up the bridge.

Another interesting hill town perched on vertical cliff faces with a subterranean city of caves and tunnels one can tour. The Duomo, the Orvieto Cathedral, is striped in travertine and basalt.

Other cities people in our group visited included Rome, Venice, Pisa, Cortona, Bologna and Milan.

RO 6-14

A Better Way to Determine Calories in Alcoholic Beverages

Monday, June 16th, 2014

A while back I reported a table of the approximate calories in an average (115 ml or 4 oz) glass of wine (also see here and here). However there is a more accurate way to calculate how many calories alcoholic beverages contain which actually contribute towards your body’s use of calories. In other words how will the alcoholic beverages you consume affect your weight?

Wine contains about 13% alcohol by volume (actually I’ve seen one that reports 16.5%) and beer any where from 3.2% to 10% or more, and distilled spirits vary widely. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. So you might assume the more alcohol you consume the more weight you will gain. It turns out that many studies have determined that calories from alcohol do not necessarily lead to weight increase. The reason is unclear but the research suggests that alcohol is not effectively metabolized and that alcohol can increase overall metabolic rates causing more calories to be burned rather than stored. (Read this). For scientists the “calories” reported in foods are actually kilocalories but we will just call them “calories” here.

So for a correct comparison of the “metabolic calories” in various alcoholic beverages you have to back out the calories due to the alcohol. Note for comparison: one gram of fat contains about 9 calories; complex carbohydrates and protein each contain 4 calories per gram; and as above pure alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. So if you know the total (T) calories in a given volume (Xoz) of a drink and the percent alcohol (P) it’s simple to calculate the net (N) metabolic calories you will consume:

N = T – 7(cal/gm alcohol)*0.28(gm alcohol/oz%)*P*X = T – 1.96*P*X

  • N = Net calories in your drink of X ounces
  • T = Total calories in your drink of X ounces
  • X = Number of ounces of the drink
  • P = Percent alcohol of the drink


There are a number of sources that report the calories and percent alcohol in various drinks. The values differ quite a bit from source to source, but below I have selected some wines and beers to provide a few examples:

Calories in Wine

  Total Calories Net Calories
Non-Alcohol Wine 4oz, 0% 37 37
Champagne 4oz, 12% 105 11
Dry Red 4oz , 13% 115 13
Dry White 4oz , 12.5% 120 22
Dry Rose 4oz , 12% 100 0

Calories in Beer

  Total Calories Net Calories
Non-Alcohol Beer 12oz, 0% 60 60
Beer 12oz, 5.5% 150 21
Light Beer 12oz, 4.0% 100 6
Stout 12oz, 4.3% 153 52
Double Dock 12oz, 9.5% 323 99


There are many references but these will get you started if interested:



James Beard Foundation

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

SPEX attended a fundraiser in support of the James Beard Foundation on Monday June 15, 2013. The function was held at the headquarters on West 12th street in the heart of the Village in New York City, which just happens to be where the culinary legend lived for many years. The foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future.

The excellent wine tasting was hosted by Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards of Jerome AZ. Mr. Keenan is, of course, a music icon as well.

Maynard James Keenan

Maynard James Keenan

The hors d’oeuvres followed by a great five course dinner were created by Chef Mike Carrino of the “Pig and the Prince” in Montclair, NJ. Chef Mike was assisted by his staff and several of the students from the James Beard Culinary Arts School.

LCGC Europe Webinar: “The Comprehensive Analyses of Wine”

Monday, October 29th, 2012

LCGC Europe recently held a very informative webinar detailing the analysis of wine.  You can register on the LCGC Europe website to view a recording, or download the slides.

You can also watch the webinar I hosted last year on the Art and Chemistry of Wine.


If you analyze wine, be sure to check out SPEX CertiPrep’s growing selection of wine standards.

Check out our webinar on “The Making and Chemistry of Wine!

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

The production of wine has been an art form and a business for thousands of years. Join SPEX CertiPrep as we discuss the vintner’s art, from wine production to the chemistry of wine. Our presentation includes not only the various steps in the actual production of wine from crushing the grapes to bottling the wine, but also a discussion of the different chemical aspects of wine from flavor profile agents to contamination and spoilage agents. We invite you to take part in our interesting and informative look at the art and science of wine!



You can view other webinars from SPEX CertiPrep on their YouTube Channel

Download the slides from the SPEX CertiPrep website

For more information on SPEX CertiPrep’s Wine and Pesticide Certified Reference Materials, visit  To learn about the Geno/Grinder, visit

Obie’s Out of Bounds wine wins Gold Medal!!!

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

A few months ago one of Obie’s wines was entered in a wine making competition sponsored by “Wine Maker International Magazine”. There were about 50 different categories ranging from various whites to many different reds to sparkling wines. In total there were thousands of entries.

Obie’s 2007 California Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend won a gold medal, the highest award, in the “Red Vinifera Blend” category, as shown in the certificate below. The blend contained approximately 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Grenache, 20% Petit Syrah and 10% Alicante grapes.

Obies Wine Gold Medal Certificate

Obies Wine Gold Medal Certificate