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Sit back, relax, and get ready to take a journey to Ireland for the next couple of weeks. Sure, I will have some blog posts on holiday recipes and other things, but we just spent eight days in the West of Ireland, and I am back with a full heart and hundreds upon hundreds of photos and sweet memories.

On the first trip back to Ireland I made with my husband, his parents took all of us to lunch at  Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo. My jaw dropped at the beauty of the castle and the elegance and delicious food. It’s been almost 10 years since that visit, and a wedding, two houses, and many nieces and nephews have happened since. On this past trip, we all returned to Ashford for Sunday lunch.

The castle, which was recently purchased by Red Carnation Hotels, goes back to 1228 when a castle was built on a monastic site and run by the de Burgo family. Its history is long and winding, and the building has housed many famous guests including Oscar Wilde, King George V, John Lennon, John Wayne, Princess Grace of Monaco, and many others.

Ashford Castle

Arriving at Ashford Castle is pretty grand in itself. There’s a gatekeeper and a long road that winds through the golf course and leads you up to another gate over a river, then the castle.

Ashford Castle gate

Ashford Castle golf course

On the inside, Ashford Castle exudes regal beauty, with plush carpets, ornate chandeliers, and comfy chairs.

Ashford Castle

While we sat in the lounge waiting for lunch, we had a round of drinks, mine a perfectly chilled Manhattan.  A Manhattan in a castle on a Sunday afternoon felt pretty darn decadent!


And the view from of Lough Corrib from the lounge just couldn’t be beat.


Sunday lunch at Ashford involves a prix fixe menu with choices for appetizer, entree, and dessert. The Irish are known for their smoked salmon, and I went with a traditional and simple preparation, fresh salmon with a bit of fresh salad and lemon.

smoked salmon

Entrees are on the heartier side, and choices included Connemara lamb, pork, and hake. Entrees are all served under silver domes which are dramatically removed at the same time by members of Ashford staff.

The pork came on a cart and was carved tableside. We felt so spoiled!

Ashford Castle tableside service

Ashford Castle tableside service

Since we were surrounded by beautiful water, I went with a fillet of hake with sweet creamed carrot, prawn bisque, and boiled potatoes. It was the perfect choice, filling but not too heavy, each of the elements’ flavors coming through without being overbearing.

fillet of hake

Portions were generous but not overwhelming, and I was left with plenty of room for dessert, a Sticky Toffee Pudding with Rum Raisin Ice Cream. Yum.

The wine selection at Ashford is impressive, with pages and pages of wines including some very expensive ones. A bottle of Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé Chardonnay went well with our hake and salmon and was just a delicious wine.

sticky toffee pudding

One of the best parts about lunch at Ashford Castle is being able to wander the beautiful grounds after. Every nook and turn has some sort of beautiful old detail, and stretching the legs after  a leisurely lunch feels wonderful.

Ashford Castle

Lough Corrib Lough Corrib is a stunner on its own. With 365 islands, there is something magical about this lake, and the light after lunch was perfect. We could see across to County Galway and to many of the little islands that dot the lake’s calm surface. It’s the perfect spot for boating when the weather is nice, and our Ashford visit has me counting down until we are in Ireland again in August.

Lough Corrib

Ashford Castle

If you get the chance to visit Ireland, I always recommend spending a lot of time in the Western part of the country. Ashford Castle is a beautiful place to splurge on a meal or a night’s stay if you are lucky.

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Tags: castle hotel, castles, cocktails, Cong, County Mayo, Food, Ireland, Irish countryside, Irish hotel, Travel, travel blog, wine

As we prepare for Ireland travel adventures and seriously discuss a VERY exciting winter trip, I guess it’s time to wrap up my writing about our last Sonoma County trip. Sure, there will be Wine of the Week posts featuring Sonoma wines we brought back, but I am just about out of photos and stories to share. It must be time to go back.

Our last day in Healdsburg was a sad one, as it always is. We checked out of our rental house and then wandered around trying to decide what to do until our red eye flight from Oakland. Wine tasting was on the cards, of course.

Longboard tasting room Healdsburg

We passed by Longboard Vineyards several times throughout this trip and past Healdsburg visits but never made it inside. A leisurely last day in wine country seemed like the perfect time, and we were glad we stopped in this bright, fun tasting room.

Longboard tasting room

Owner and winemaker Oded Shakked traveled and surfed around the world after surfing from a young age in his native Israel, and the tasting room decor, which includes vintage surfboards all over, reflects that passion.

Shakked brings his surfing passion together with wine in Longboard Vineyards, and while the vibe is laid back, the wine is seriously good stuff.

Longboard Vineyards

wine tasting in Healdsburg

We arrived at the tasting room’s opening since we wanted to make the most of our last day. As a result we had the tasting room to ourselves and had a fun time tasting with our lovely hostess.

Longboard Sauvignon Blanc

We decided to share a tasting (always a great option), and went through the list.  Favorites included their 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, which made the trip home with us. Tart, fresh, with nice acid, notes of pineapple and grapefruit, and ever-present minerality, this wine is summery and refreshing, perfect with a grilled seafood feast.

Mavericks Red Blend

We also loved the Mavericks Red Blend (killer label) for its deep, dark fruit flavors and luxurious weight. This wine is a big one, but it still worked on the warm day that we were tasting on.

Longboard’s Rochioli Chardonnay is also a memorable wine, with baked apple and honey notes and a light hint of vanilla, an easy Chardonnay that has enough depth to keep it interesting. Lovely.

We loved all of the wines we tasted at Longboard, and we felt so welcome. It’s a wine club we are definitely considering joining once we figure out what our next year looks like. And there you have it, our magical Sonoma and Napa trip is wrapped up. It’s one I will never forget; our travels were full of good food, wine, people, and time outdoors, great weather, and relaxation. As I sit here finishing this post, I am longing to be canoeing on Russian River again in the August heat, that’s for sure!

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Tags: Healdsburg, Sonoma, Sonoma County, Travel, wine, wine country, wine tasting, wine travel, wineries

It’s a Northern Sonoma County must-visit! Wine, gardens, views for days, Quivira Winery, in the Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg, California, has all of the above and more. This property had just so much life peeking out  from every corner that you could spend an entire day checking out flowers and chickens and vegetables, not to mention stopping back in the tasting room for a sip of wine here or there.

We visited Quivira on the same day we visited Lambert Bridge and Truett Hurst, a hot, dry, perfect blue sky day, where splashes of cold Sauvignon Blanc went down a treat.

Quivira Winery, Healdsburg

Quivira is in a beautiful location in the Dry Creek Valley, surrounded by vineyards and trees, and there is something super calming and soothing about their property. The way it is laid out, with gardens all around and farm animals not far down (piglets!) is made for wandering, and the welcoming staff definitely encourage it.

Quivira Winery

summer flowers in wine country

The tasting room is bright and airy, and there were a couple of small, fun groups tasting wine and enjoying the day. There was such a nice vine in the room. As I said above, we went in and out of the tasting room, bringing our tastes out in the garden to soak up the sun. I think I maybe stored enough to get me through to January?

I was really loving mineral-y Sauvignon Blancs on this trip, bursts of lime, hints of grapefruit, mouthwatering acidity but also balance, like in Quivira’s Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. I’m also loving Mourvedre more and more and am excited to see it appearing on more California tasting lists. Like the tasting notes say this wine offered juicy dark cherries and more importantly, those pepper notes that I seek. I love when a wine hits my tongue and there is an immediately recognizable spice.

Quivira Winery tasting room

As you probably know, I will never turn down a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, and despite the heat (or maybe because of it) the 2011 Quest Zinfandel was amazing. A texture like velvet, and again, that spice, a bit of jam, yum.

The Wine Creek Ranch Dry Creek Valley Rosé wasn’t on the tasting we chose, but we got to have a taste anyway and ended up taking home a bottle of this GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend.  It was perfect perfect perfect with the warm sunshine and dusty air. Strawberry notes dominated with subtle spice on the finish. This wine is sold out for a reason. It is the perfect summer wine.

Quivira practices biodynamic farming which is interesting, a little mystical sounding, and something I’d like to learn more about. Biodynamic farming involves the entire ecosystem of the vineyard and  results in the smallest carbon footprint possible. Their site offers a good bit of information on what biodynamic farming means and how each living thing on their property contributes to that.

Quivira Winery gardens

I probably sound by a broken record at this point, but we have visited a LOT of wineries in our travels, and Quivira is definitely one I would put at the top of your list for spending at least an hour at. The vibrancy of the property, its people, and of course, the wine all draw you in and make it so that you don’t want to leave. Then again, that’s Healdsburg for you.

Quivira Winery Quivira Winery gardens

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Tags: Healdsburg, Tasting Room, Travel, travel blog, wine, wine blog, wine country, wine lover, wine tasting, wine travel, Wine Wednesday, winery

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