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Tuesday, September 24, 2013


CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia

Because we keep returning to the Shenandoah Valley and the Massanutten Resort a few miles from Harrisonburg, Virginia, 

over the years we’ve heard of nearby wineries growing and beginning to flourish.  Our interest was  sufficiently piqued this time to visit a local vineyard and winery, CrossKeys, and I’m glad we did.

CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
This is only July, and look how plump and perfect these grapes appear
We like to visit wineries and to take their tours.  Frankly, we like wine.  It is hard to enumerate the many individual approaches we’ve experienced.  Each tour adds a little knowledge and a little more appreciation of the art of wine.  Whether you are a wine drinker or not, a winery tour is a nice way to spend some time.

In Virginia where Thomas Jefferson has been described as America’s first viticulturist, wine is an important and still growing industry.  We’ve visited several wineries around the state, and I have posted about the Williamsburg Winery:

CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
The owner's residence amid the vines.  Isn't this handsomely romantic?
There are wineries all over Virginia, and there is an entire travel industry based on wine tours to different sections of the state.  Just google “Virginia Wine Tours” to see what I mean.  We’ve never taken an organized wine tour of several vineyards.  Rather, we prefer to simply stop by.  That’s what we did at Crosskeys Winery.

In 1999, there was no CrossKeys Winery.  The land was for sale.  There were no roads through the property.  The richness of the Shenandoah Valley’s soil and the beauty of the land nestled between the mountains suggested untold possibilities, and the Bakhtiar family bought it and became part of the history of this valley that is primarily known for its Civil War history and for its caverns, particularly the famous Luray Caverns.

CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
The Visitor Center--our destination
Their first vines were planted in 2001; their first crop was harvested in 2006; their first vintage was offered in their tasting room in 2008.  We arrived in July, 2013 and were greeted by beautiful views, a magnificent owner’s home (in the distance), and a fine tour of the building housing the tasting room, wine facilities, aging rooms, and banquet facilities.  This winery produces approximately 3,000 bottles a year, but the future is limitless.

The road leading to the winery buildings exudes a natural beauty and a sense of peace.  Flanked by fields of different varietals, the exquisite green rows of grapes, neatly staked and separated by mown paths, and the serpentine road seem an entry to another world.  In the distance loom two huge and majestic buildings which we were to learn are the owner’s residence and the main winery building.

CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
Wouldn't you love to and a "sit and sip" afternoon here?
The main building is very impressive.  It sits on a rise just high enough for its patio to overlook the growing grapes, offer shade from the hot July Virginia sun, and suggest that sitting here at one of the wrought iron tables with a nice glass of Crosskeys wine is a good thing.  Perhaps a bit of lunch from the Crosskeys kitchen might be nice too.  It’s a beautiful, inviting environment.

Inside, the tasting room’s main area is the stand-up bar.  Signs tell us exactly what the four different “from grape to glass” tours offer, and around the room in wood cabinets are wines, wine “gear,” and various souvenirs.  It’s pleasant as is the smiling young man who explained the nine wines we tasted on our “Full Tasting” tour. (naturally)

We sampled ten different wines.  My notes tell me that there was only one that I did not really enjoy which is a merely relative judgment.  Overall, this was a very good tasting.  Rob and our friends had similar judgments. 
CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
He actually gave me his name, but it's lost.  Sorry.
She was our tour guide.
Two wonderful and knowledgable people in a beautiful setting

CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
I think Rick and Pam were satisfied with the tasting!
CrossKeys does its wine tastings in a very professional way.  Both the sommelier and the literature we received described not only the wine and the flavors we should search for but also how the wine was fermented (steel tanks and/or French oak barrels), what finish we would experience, and how to pair the wine.  As we were just four people, he was able to answer questions and discuss in further detail what we experienced.

My favorite was the 2011 Joy Red. “This well balanced barrel-aged wine is perfect for summertime with its fresh sweet finish balanced with a touch of acidity, it may be enjoyed chilled or at room temperature.  This deep-colored Chambourcin leaves hints of spices and cocoa.  Not too heavy on the palate makes this an easy drinking red.  A fine complement to simple stews or ripened cheeses.”  Yes, a purchase was made.  And CrossKeys wineglasses too.

As an aside, my favorite part of a tasting is to see if I can actually find, as in Joy Red, that hint of the chambourcin grape’s “spices and cocoa.”  It’s a delightful game with satisfying rewards.

CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery
Lucy and Ethel would not work here!
Our tour guide took us down to the real “works” of a winery past the vegetable garden.  Admirably, they grow many of the vegetables used in their kitchen supplementing with as much local produce and foodstuffs as possible. 

Our first indoor stop was the room where the harvested grapes are processed and transformed into what is arguably man’s universal drink.  Then we saw the barrels, and finally some of the winery’s catering facilities including the indoor banquet room and the outdoor venue for a multitude of functions including weddings.  Halcyon is a word that comes to mind.  A party here must be beautiful. 
CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
This is still a small winery producing approximately 3,000 bottles annually

CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
In the back, an outdoor venue for a wonderful party
CrossKeys Vineyards and Winery, Virginia
Or perhaps party inside
My travel advice:  Don’t skip the smaller, lesser known vineyards.  We had a wonderful time, enjoyed the personal attention to us and to detail.  We like the idea of people working and making their dreams come true.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Savannah should be on everyone's must-go list
It is charming and gracious
And unusual

Saturday, September 07, 2013


This is the Western Wall  (or Kotel) in Jerusalem
Jewish people around the world are celebrating their Days of Awe
from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.
The Western Wall is what remains of the Second Holy Temple destroyed in 70 C.E.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013


I am going to blame the camera phone
for my Santa Claus cheeks and Marcello's Rudolfesque nose.
If you live near Rockland County, New York or are traveling nearby on the New York Thruway or Route 17, you should not miss an opportunity to have dinner at Marcello’s in Suffern, New York.  Not only will you feast one some of the best Italian food prepared innovatively by Chef Marcello but also you might meet him as he makes the round of tables during quieter moments.

Chef Marcello is more than the chef and owner of an upscale restaurant; he is a success story whose talents have taken him around the world, invited him into the worlds of movies, television, and radio, inspired him to write cookbooks, and to become a premier Italian chef performing his culinary art before some of the most important people in the world including several Italian premiers.  Marcello even has his own radio program.  Visit Marcello’s website for more of this man’s biographical information.  You will be impressed!

But let’s get back to our dinner.

Marcello’s has the friendliest staff.  We are greeted almost as family, and the wait staff is unerringly knowledgeable, charming, and ready to help with your choices.  The faces look familiar, and I’d venture to guess that many have been with Marcello for a long while.  They know the menu and the specials very well.
I was torn between an Eggplant Rollatini  (filled with ricotta, mushrooms, fontina chees and parmigiano baked in a light tomato sauce served with pasta) and a Boneless Stuffed Pork Chop (filled with prosciutto & fontina cheese crusted with panco breadcrumbs served in a light wine sauce served with farrotto [spelt similar to risotto])

You just read those descriptions.  Which would you choose?

When I mentioned my dilemma to our very attentive waiter, he tilted his head, smiled a bit and said aloud as he wrote my order, “Pork Chop.” 

Later Marcello came to our table and brought me a copy of his new book, Marcello Russodivito - The Story of My 25 Years as Chef-Owner, which he autographed. 

He then explained my dinner. They do not cut the pork chop in the kitchen because they do not want the abundance of cheese to drip.  When I was served this dish moments later, it was just at the right temperature to spare me the drippy cheese thereby keeping all the melded flavors as they were meant to be.  On a side note--he is absolutely cherubically charming!

Marcello takes a great deal of care in presentation.  Each dish we ordered was artistically arranged and quite beautiful.

We four began with drinks (of course) but none of the tempting appetizers.  We were thoroughly content with the crusty roll and focaccia.  There was a lot of talking to do.

Veal Coletta
The dinner specials, however, were too tempting to pass, and Iris and Joyce headed in that direction.  Joyce ordered the Veal Coletta with eggplant, mozzarella, and pasta.  Iris selected the Stuffed Veal Chop—a nice, big breaded chop stuffed with mozzarella and mushrooms.

Veal Saltimboca
Rob debated between a tuna dish and Veal Saltimboca, and finally decided on the veal.  Excellent.  It was served with mashed potatoes and green beans.

None of us had any space left for dessert; actually, Joyce and I took half our entrĂ©es home with us!  Portions are “hearty.” Abbondanza!  I add that what I took home became two excellent sandwiches for our lunch the following day. 

We did enjoy excellent coffee.  Despite the fact that we had no room for dessert, a lovely plate of tiny and delicious treats were brought, and somehow we found room to try and to enjoy them.

Marcello’s provided us with a charming atmosphere, a table where four good friends could enjoy a leisurely, excellent meal served by a friendly, competent staff.  That’s pretty, darned good!