Boston Wine Expo 2017: Highlights & Favorites

Three weekends ago (seriously where does the time go??) Sean and I attended the 2017 Boston Wine Expo and I think this one was the best yet. This was our fourth year in a row attending and I can honestly say that like a fine wine, this event gets even better with age.

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We arrived for the media and trade hours at 11:00 AM on Saturday and did a quick loop of the floor. This year, we noticed more food and snack vendors flanked the main aisles (shout out to Primizie who makes some super delicious crisps and chips!) We knew we’d be back more than once to this section of the floor because its essential to eat during the four (or in our case, six) hours that the Expo is open.

Each year, the trade floor is set up a little differently. This year was a little tougher to navigate because they did not have the sections set up by region or country as they have in the past. Nevertheless, we hit the ground running with wines from Spain and made it all around the world during the two days. I’ve said it in previous posts about the BWE, but I think its 100% worth it to attend both days of the Expo because the floor is just too large to get through in one afternoon.

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This year, the Expo also had a great “Social Spot” where people could sit and work on tweets and posts or snap some fun photos. It was nice to be able to pull over to a designated area to get my life in order while I was live tweeting and Instagram-storying all day instead of bumping into fellow Expo goers; I hope they repeat this area next year.

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So… the wine. I was pleased to see some old favorites, like 90+ Cellars, as well as some new faces like Res Fortes. Trying wine from all over the world is such a unique and rare experience but it’s fun to branch out to countries like Georgia or Israel when you probably aren’t purchasing and drinking wine from these places on a regular basis.

Here is a look at some of our favorites from the weekend…

90+ Cellars. (Check out some desserts I made with a few of their wines here!)

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Res Fortes.

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Trivento.

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From the country of Georgia.

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Kauzo.

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And from the Vintner’s Lounge…

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Catena Zapata.

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Duckhorn. (Although I was definitely missing their Goldeneye Pinot Noir this year!)

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Grgich Hills Estate. (Especially their Chardonnay!)

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Frog’s Leap.

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Rodney Strong.

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The Vintner’s Reserve Lounge is one of those places where you can’t believe you are tasting wines that could be anywhere from $50 up to over $500 per bottle. It’s quite the experience. This year, we were able to go at noon on Sunday so it was a fantastic way to kick off Day 2 of the Expo. Along with the premium wineries, they also had a showing of restaurants and food vendors like Del Frisco’s handing out small bites.

We were a little disappointed not to see our favorite Rioja region represented this year but with any luck they will be back for 2018. That aside, it was another fantastic Boston Wine Expo and it continues to be one of the best Boston events every year. I cannot recommend it enough to all wine lovers or those looking to experience wine in a different way.

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Spending the weekend with the Backpacking Britts!

Until next year, Cheers!

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I was provided weekend and Vintner’s Lounge tickets to the Boston Wine Expo as part of their brand ambassador program. All images and opinions are my own.

Recipe Testing: Chocolate and Wine

If you’ve found your way to this little corner of the internet, you’re probably a chocolate and wine lover like myself. Separately or together, they are a match made in heaven and (quite obviously) two of my favorite things in the world.

Two weekends ago, I attended the 2017 Boston Wine Expo (highlights & favorites coming ASAP, promise!) We always stop by the 90+ Cellars set-up because they have a huge variety of quality wine at varying price points. They even had a blind taste test which Sean and I totally nailed! They didn’t have my favorite L’Amis Barbaresco on the floor this year and once I saw the color of the wine in my glass my super intuitive deduction skills kicked in. Okay, I’m kidding about the deductive skills, but I did get it right. I got to talking with the company’s marketing manager and soon, we were chatting about partnering up on some chocolate and wine recipes. Who could say no to that?

Surprisingly, I’ve never used red wine when making dessert so I settled on a few simple sweets to test the waters: Red Wine Hot Cocoa and Red Wine Brownies. (I also attempted Red Wine Chocolate Truffles. On account of user error, aka me failing miserably, these were not successful. I ran out of time to try a second round so I will be adding them back to the list for near-future recipes.)

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Back to the things that were successful. First up … Red Wine Hot Cocoa!

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I love hot chocolate, especially when it’s super creamy and extra indulgent. I wanted to see how the 90+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (from Argentina, not California) would elevate milk chocolate and dark chocolate so I tried both. By far, the Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa was the best. Hands down. Zero question. The fruitiness of the Cab gave the cocoa a raspberry and plum-esque flavor that’s delicious on it’s own or, if you’re feeling fancy, would be fantastic paired with a cheese plate.

I didn’t add extra sugar to either cocoa because I really wanted to the chocolate itself to shine through and be the sweetener here, but I think I would add a bit to the dark chocolate cocoa.  It might have been that I used a high cocoa bar (70% dark) which made it a little too intense as a hot drink so lowering that cocoa content could also help.

Red Wine Hot Cocoa (makes 2 servings)

12 oz milk (I used 1%)
6 oz half and half or light cream
4 ounces high quality chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup red wine (I used this 90+ Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon)

Bring a saucepan to medium heat on the stove. Add milk and half & half (or cream) and bring to a simmer but do not let it boil. Add chopped chocolate and stir until completely melted. Add wine and continuing stirring until the mixture is hot, about 3 minutes. Serve in two large mugs.

Next up … “Blend” Brownies.

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90+ sent their Big Bad Red Blend and it was clear that using a blended wine in the recipe called for something a little unconventional. I decided to use a “blend” of chocolate – about 3/4 bar of each milk and dark chocolate, melted them into butter and then added the rest of the ingredients. The result was a moist, cake-y brownie that had a subtle and luxurious hint of the red wine. The Big Bad Red Blend elevated the two chocolates and made the brownies irresistible. (Seriously, they were gone in 3 days…)

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Red Wine “Blend” Brownies

1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, melted
About 5 oz. chocolate (I used roughly 3/4 of a Lindt EXCELLENCE 70% Dark Chocolate Bar and roughly 3/4 of a Lindt CLASSIC RECIPE Milk Chocolate Bar)
2 eggs, room temperature
1 & 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4-1/3 cup red wine (I used 90+ Cellars Big Red Blend)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt butter and add chocolate. Stir over medium heat until chocolate is completely melted.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add brown sugar and start the mixer. Gently pour butter/chocolate combination until mixed thoroughly. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Drop the mixing speed to low and add flour and cocoa. Once they just come together, add wine. Start with 1/4 cup and increase up to 1/3 cup if the batter is too thick.

Pour batter into a greased 9×9 square pan and bake until the brownies are set, about 30-35 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (although I doubt they would last that long…)

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Finally, I can’t end this post without mentioning the 90+ Cellars Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the wine used in the chocolate truffles attempt and then found itself in my glass once all of the testing was completed. This Cab falls under 90+ Cellar’s “Reserve” section of their website as it is at a slightly higher price point than the other 2 “Core” wines I tested. In my opinion, is worth every extra cent. It’s full-bodied with a smooth finish, complimented by notes of mocha and tobacco giving it a slightly smoky edge. This wine would be perfect to serve at a dinner party or make a beautiful gift for a Cab lover in your life. I would know; I want someone to gift this to me!

Are there any chocolate and wine desserts you’d like to try? Leave a comment and they may get added to Round 2 of recipe testing.

This post is was created in partnership with 90+ Cellars, but all opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting brands who support Chocolate & Wine!

Boston Wine Expo 2017 (+ GIVEAWAY)

I can’t believe that’s already the middle of January. Where is all of this time going?

On Sunday I got back from 12 days in California. It was pretty incredible to say the least, and I will have a full recap of my trip coming soon. But now, I’m already looking ahead to February which, despite the freezing cold winters and all of the snow here, is one of my favorite times of the year. Sean’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, a day off for President’s Day, and of course, the Boston Wine Expo, all make for one jam-packed, super fun month.

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A very small part of the giant Boston Wine Expo floor. Also known as the calm before the storm…

I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Boston Wine Expo as a brand ambassador for the past few years. I always say it’s one of my favorite events of the year and one of the best that Boston puts on. It’s no secret that I love wine. Love love. And in the past 2 or so years I’ve really branched out. I no longer only drink Cabernet Sauvignon. I don’t shy away from a crisp Sauv Blanc or a sweet Port. And while I do still gravitate towards red wine more often than not, try to stop me from enjoying a cold glass of Chardonnay on a hot summer day.

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Keeper of the Bubbly.

This year, attending the Boston Wine Expo as a seasoned Expo vet has some definite perks. We have a pretty good idea how to navigate the expo floor (which is gigantic) and we know that snack time is about every 20-30 minutes when you’re drinking wine for 4-6 hours straight. Also, you don’t have to drink every single sip of every single wine you try. (I learned that the hard way in year 1.) Find a pace that is right for you and instead of frantically bouncing from table to table trying to fit everything in in one day (it’s impossible…), spend some time in the regions you love or the regions you may have been hesitant to try in the past.

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So many wines, so little time.

There’s also a variety of other things you can do at the Expo besides stay on the main floor. Treat yourself to VIP tickets to the Vintner’s Reserve Lounge where there are even more wines to try (some very rare, others very expensive). Get tickets to one of the many seminars where you can hone your focus on one particular subject (the Cheese & Wine one looks like it would be right up my alley), or grab a free seat at a live cooking demonstration as different ones are held throughout the day.

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Wine flights at the 2014 Rioja seminar.

 

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The good life in the 2015 Vintner’s Reserve Lounge.
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My favorite wine from the 2016 Vintner’s Lounge (about $50/bottle in New Hampshire)

This year’s Expo is being held the weekend after Valentine’s Day on Saturday and Sunday, February 18th and 19th. Fun fact, this is also President’s Day Weekend so if you’re lucky enough to have Monday off, there are so many good things about this: A) You get a super fun and unique Valentine’s Day date with someone special, and B) you can sleep off all that wine on Monday. Win-win!

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The best BWE date year after year.

I’m giving away a pair of tickets to Sunday’s Expo hours! To enter, leave a comment below telling me which type of wine you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t been able to yet. For bonus entries, follow me on Instagram and Twitter and leave me individual comments letting me know that you did!

BONUS OFF-BLOG ENTRY: Follow the instructions on THIS Instagram post and you’ll have another chance to win!

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Cody!

There’s still time to purchase tickets to the Expo. Use code WINEDERFUL17 at checkout for 15% OFF Grand Tasting tickets, weekend passes, VIP Vintner’s Lounge and select seminars. (Offer expires 2/14 at 11:59 PM)

#SpritzerSeason with Barefoot Wine

I am holding onto summer with every fiber of my being.

Every. Single. Fiber.

This summer was nothing short of fantastic and I’m not quite ready to let it go. I said goodbye to my mid-twenties (and hello to 27), tried disc golfing for the first time, Sean and I had our engagement photos taken (!!!), we went to St. Maarten to watch his sister get married, and then proceeded to watch 3 more sets of friends get married. For the most part, the weather was beautiful, and now that we live somewhere with a back porch (albeit tiny), we adorned it with two Adirondack chairs, a bistro table and a very expensive high-quality grill, transforming it into a little piece of #heaven.

Disc Golfing. I'm bad at it.
Disc Golfing. I’m bad at it.
Apparently this is what turning 27 looks like. It looks a lot like turning 22 to me....
Apparently this is what turning 27 looks like. It looks a lot like turning 22 to me….
I bribed Sean with beer to be good at engagement photos. It worked.
How cute are these chairs? More about the wine in a hot sec...
How cute are these chairs? More about the wine in a hot sec…

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love everything about fall. I love the sweaters, the boots, apple picking, cider, PUMPKIN ALL THE THINGS. I am a New England girl through and through. But after last winter (I see you Juno….) I feel the need to have summer a little bit longer. I will not let it go until the official first day of fall. Who’s with me?

Barefoot. Barefoot is with me. 

Heaven.

It should come as no surprise that I love dry wine. The dryer the better. Usually of the California or Italian variety. To me, there’s almost nothing better than that dusty mouthfeel after sipping the driest of reds. But sometimes, especially in the summertime, you need something a little sweeter, a little bubblier. Spritz-like. Enter Barefoot Refresh: cold, bubbly. The perfect addition to my wine collection.

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It’s rare that I forgo my tried-and-true reds, but this summer was full of hot days. And I mean H-O-T. When it’s 90+ degrees and I’m sitting by the pool or on the deck, nothing really compares to a wine that is both cold and refreshing. Earlier this summer when Barefoot introduced me to their Spritzer collection, I was immediately hooked. It’s the perfect sipping wine when you’re kicking back and enjoying the lazy days of summer (or clinging dearly to the few you have left.) Whatever you are in the mood for, Barefoot’s got you covered. Want something juicy? Their summer red blend will quench your thirst. Opting for something with a little more acid and bite? Their white is right up your alley.

There was no formal pairing here, but watermelton + white spritzer = real good.
There was no formal pairing here, but watermelton + white spritzer = real good.

My favorite may actually surprise you. This year has been a year of branching out for me. I enjoy beer now (what?) and I’ve also really gotten into whites. So in this case, Barefoot’s Sweet California Spritzer was the one I kept coming back to. And if you ask me, it’s never a bad time of year to enjoy this kind of wine. And luckily, there’s still a solid week of summer left, so you still have plenty of time!

If you need me, I’ll be on the porch with a bottle of Barefoot, soaking in the sun and holding onto summer for a few more days.

Excuse me while I make this my life.
Excuse me while I make this my life.

Did you get a chance to try Barefoot’s Spritzer Collection this summer? Which one was your favorite?

Disclosure: Barefoot provided bottles of their Spritzer Wine to me free of charge in return for my review. As always, all opinions here are my own.

Life Lately (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Things have been pretty crazy over here since I last posted way waaaay too long ago. One of my goals for 2015 is to blog more so hopefully I will have lots to say this year!

And because I’ve been away for a while, I did want to give a quick (and very special) update to precede the amazing giveaway at the end of this post. (Don’t miss it!!)

In a blog post from January 2013 (wow, that seems like so long ago), I mentioned that I had met a guy and fallen for him hard during my summer in London. Fast forward 2(+) years from that summer, he stuck around. He made me happy. We even got a cat.

Then, this past October, he did something that made me cry harder than I ever had before. He got down on one knee in the place he took me on our first date (Ogunquit, Maine) and asked me to marry him.

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It was a surreal experience. In the minutes, hours, weeks to follow there were hundreds of phone calls, texts, emails, social notifications, glasses of champagne, congratulations and a whirlwind of thoughts: “OMG I’M ENGAGED. WHAT NOW? WHAT NOW?”

I calmed down eventually.

We picked a date, a venue, a photographer, and I’m happy to say I have lots of time to plan, stress, probably cry once or twice or many times, and enjoy all of the champagne my heart desires. And being engaged to Sean also means I get an official drinking partner for the rest of my life. So awesome.

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And speaking of a drinking partner, Sean and I will be attending the Boston Wine Expo for the second year in a row next weekend! The perfect Valentine’s Day excursion.

It’s no surprise that Sean and I love wine. Our love of red wine in particular was an early common thread between the two of us – Sean even brought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignion for us to enjoy on our first date (Fetzer) and it is still a tried and true favorite of ours.

Last year at the Expo, we sampled glass after glass of wine from all over the world and learned about each wine and vineyard individually. The Expo is a giant trade floor set up by country with each respective flag hanging over a portion of the floor. The wine booths are also flanked by different food vendors handing out samples so you can snack your way through the wine tastings.

Memories from the BWE14!
Memories from the BWE14!

SORRY, THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.

Want to go to the 2015 Boston Wine Expo? You’re in luck! I have one pair of tickets that I’m giving away for next Sunday’s Grand Tasting event! (Sunday, February 15th from 1pm-5pm at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.)

I promise this is an event you will NOT want to miss!

To enter:

Simply leave a comment and tell me what you’d look forward to the most if you got to attend the Expo. (Need inspiration? Check out their website and their Facebook page!) Make sure you include your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win!

Want 2 extra entries? Follow @ChocoAndWine on Twitter and @BostonWineExpo on Twitter, tell me you did in the comments, and I’ll give you an extra entry for each follow!

Good luck! I’ll pick a winner on Wednesday, February 11th.

Congratulations Nell! (Comment #18!)

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*The Boston Wine Expo sends Chocolate & Wine to the event, and provides the giveaway tickets, but all opinions are, as always, my own.

Boston Wine Expo 2014

The Boston Wine Expo was two weeks and yet I’m just finally getting this review up. I think I’ve written and re-written this post five different times, but I really wanted to capture my entire experience at the Expo to be able to share with all of you!

When we first walked in to the Seaport Trade Center, I admit I was slightly overwhelmed by the sheer size of the whole thing. I wish I had snapped a quick photo! Colorful country flags hung from the ceiling indicating different areas of the world and the smell of food coming from different vendors around the room made me that much more eager to get started.

Coats checked and souvenir wine glasses in hand, Sean and I began walking around the large room, trying to decide where to begin. They did provide a floor plan and guide booklet, but that effort was quickly abandoned when all we wanted was wine in our glasses.

The first booth that caught my eye was a label that I’ve seen on multiple occasions in the wine shop Sean and I frequent in the town we live in, but have never purchased. From 90+ Cellars, we tried Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. We enjoyed both, though the Pinot Noir was definitely the favorite of the two. It was a great way to start our time at the Expo.

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From there, we dove head first into the rest of the afternoon, tasting all different types of wine, many we had never heard of before. And while Sean and I are primarily red wine drinkers, there were some whites we couldn’t pass up. One of these whites is from New Zealand winery, Vela Wines, called “Twelfth Night”. If the title and beautifully designed label don’t immediately pull you in, the wine certainly will. Normally I shy away from Reisling because of it’s traditionally (very) sweet flavors, but Twelfth Night had a welcoming dryness that I appreciated. The Sauvingnon Blanc and Pinot Noir were also enjoyable.

If you normally shy away from white wine, I recommend Twelfth Night.
If you normally shy away from white wine, I recommend Twelfth Night.

Rioja caught Sean’s eye next. We somewhat regularly drink Campo Viejo, but never really explored other Riojas. The table was set up in a circle and the vendors urged us to try to the lighter varieties before tasting the Reservas. So that’s what we did. (Important note: The Conde Valdemar Crianza pairs very well with dark chocolate.)

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When we got to the Reserva portion of the Rioja station, we couldn’t pass up a chance to taste a Gran Reserva from 2001. We don’t usually get to indulge in wine that has been aged this long, and the difference was astounding. The depth and complexity of the Gran Reserva was unlike anything I had ever tried before.

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Knowing that we would get to experience more Rioja later in the day, we decided that drinking all of this wine somewhat quickly warranted a little bit of food. Lucky for us, we had been granted access into the exclusive Vintner’s Reserve Lounge. Walking in, I felt a little bit like a small child on Christmas morning. Food and wine vendors lined three walls of the room, comfy lounge chairs and tables flanked the entrance and a large cheese display sat center. We took our time indulging in oysters in the half shell, dry Italian reds, and perfectly cooked free-range beef tenderloin from a company called Del Terrunio. Simply spectacular.

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At 2:30, Sean and I attended the “21st Century Rioja” seminar with tickets courtesy of the seminar. Seven types of Rioja wine were at each place setting and Ana Fabiano, author of The Wine Region of Rioja, led the seminar. Ana discussed a brief history of Rioja, where and how its made, and why it is a perfect match for any time of food. We sampled each of the seven wines, including Wine Spectator’s #1 Wine of the Year: Cune Imperial Gran Reserva 2004. I personally had never tried the Crianza variety and found Luis Canas Crianza to be remarkable. Sean loved Bodegas LAN Crianza as well. Overall, the seminar was educational and insightful and was absolutely worth the hour spent.

Snapshot of the seminar.
Snapshot of the seminar.

At the very end of the expo, Sean and I stumbled upon a table display full of different kinds of sauce. Yes, sauce! A company called “Hoboken Eddies” and the owner and founder, Eddie himself, was stationed at the table. After sampling the Raspberry Honey Mustard, I was hooked.

I'm not kidding - Best Honey Mustard ever.
I’m not kidding – Best Honey Mustard ever.
Getting to meet Eddie was wonderful as well!
Getting to meet Eddie was wonderful as well!

And if I wasn’t already happy enough with my experience at the 2014 Boston Wine Expo, I received a call a few days later from Renewal by Andersen, a window replacement company, telling me that I won a wine gift basket from their table. Insert happy dance here.

Overall, I would highly recommend the Boston Wine Expo to any foodie friend or wine lover I know. The tickets are worth every penny and you may even consider going both Saturday and Sunday, as Sean and I hope to next year.

Thank you to the Boston Wine Expo, the coordinators of the Rioja seminar, and especially Janet Fouts, for the opportunity to be a Social Media Ambassador for this year’s Boston Wine Expo. I look forward to next year’s event!

Just some of the great moments at the BWE2014.
Just some of the great moments at the BWE2014.

Full Disclosure: I was given 2 complimentary tickets to the Boston Wine Expo and to the 21st Century Rioja seminar. All opinions expressed here are, as always, my own.

Boston Wine Expo 2014 (and a Giveaway!)

I love wine.

I’m sure that goes without saying considering the title of this blog. And I’m really excited that this year I get the chance to go to the Boston Wine Expo at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center in February! The opportunity to try over 300 wines in the span of 4 hours, plus tasty bites and live cooking demos? Sign me up!

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There are also educational seminars that you can attend to learn more about whatever topic tickles your tastebuds. I’m already eyeing the “Cheese and Wine Matching Seminar” where you get to try wines expertly paired with different cheeses. There’s also location-based seminars for those who are interested in learning about wines specific to places like Napa Valley or Portugal. I think deciding on which seminars to go to would be one of the hardest decisions of the day!

And guess what? The Boston Wine Expo wants you there too! I have two tickets to give to a lucky reader for the Expo’s Grand Tasting on Sunday, February 16th! Your tickets will include access to the main event, a souvenir glass with which you can try any of the 300(+) wines that will be available for sampling, complimentary food samples from a variety of culinary producers, and live cooking demonstrations.  I don’t know about you, but I’m super excited.

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me what your favorite wine is and why you’d like to to the Boston Wine Expo! (Don’t forget to leave your name and email address so I can contact you if you win!)

For an extra entry, follow me on Twitter @ChocoAndWine and leave me a comment telling me you did!

The entry period will run from today, January 15th through Thursday, January 30th. I will pick a winner at random and announce it here!

Congratulations to Lauren Boucher for winning 2 tickets to the Sunday Grand Tasting at the Boston Wine Expo!

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And for those of you who want to buy tickets now (before they sell out!), use discount code SOCIAL at checkout for 10% off tickets for either Saturday or Sunday’s Grand Tasting! (You can buy tickets here: http://j.mp/BWETix)

"Life's too short to drink bad wine."
“Life’s too short to drink bad wine.”

*As a blog ambassador, the Boston Wine Expo is providing me with complimentary tickets to the event, as well as a pair of tickets to give away. As always, all opinions are my own.