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  • Writer's pictureMelissa L. Smith

End of 2023 Wrap up

It's been a wild year. With the storms that started us off causing catastrophic damages in California including flooded cellars, a move to Napa Valley, the opportunity to serve on the stand as an expert witness, travel to London, Sicily, and Tunisia, being asked to be a part of a documentary about a $400 million collection, appraising a historic winery, and being inducted into Les Dames d’Escoffier, it was anything but boring. 


2024 is full of possibilities. I’ll be giving the Wine Collecting and The Valuation of Wine Collections seminar at Country Clubs, presenting my CLE on wine collections as an asset to Family Law and Trusts and Estates attorneys, building the online course library with a focus on Champagne and investing in wine, and dedicating time to visiting the many wineries in my backyard. 


My instagram is where I post a lot of content, both personal and food and wine related, and for me, it serves as a holding space for all of the great things that have happened during the year. With how hyper focused I am in cellars, spreadsheets, speaking, and courtrooms, I can completely forget what happened yesterday, much less a season ago. So several years ago, I started taking a day towards the end of the year to look through all of my posts and write an annual “Good and Bad” list. The bad are things like having to rewrite my contracts for the umpteenth time because of tricky clients, friends that passed away, getting Covid for the first time, horribly overpriced and overhyped restaurants, or having my hair combust because I wanted highlights before the summer. The good far outweigh the bad fortunately, and I wanted to share some of the top experiences with you that you can explore in the coming year. Following are some of the most exciting stories I’ve been a part of, incredible meals, my favorite wine events, best bites, best tours and tasting experiences, and a small section of bonus content. 


Thank you for your continued support and interest in wine, food, and travel. Wishing you a magical, prosperous, adventure filled 2024. 



Press


Master the Art of Wine Collecting The first piece of press on the Wine Collecting Master Class

Does Wine Need to be Expensive to be Good? My take on affordable wines

Exploring California’s Anderson Valley Wine Region One of my fave wine writers in one of my fave regions

Masterclass US Wine Market With Juliana Colangelo: Ep. 1634 Melissa Smith predictions and suggestions for Italian wine collecting

An LA Thief Cut a Hole In Store Roof and Stole $600,000 of Fine Wine. 'Like Something Out of 'Ocean's Eleven.' I stowed away in the back corner of a bar in London to do this interview



Best Meals


Snail Bar Oakland, CA A natural wine bar (!) with a mind bending palate awakening menu


Juanita and Maude Albany, CA Everything is always amazing from the food to the hospitality to the cocktails and the wine list


Madcap San Anselmo (Marin), CA I was thrilled to bring my former K&L coworker to this Michelin restaurant that is Japanese inspired. We drank a gorgeous bottle of Champagne


Holbrook House SF The coolest bar in San Francisco with light switches to signal the martini or Champagne cart to come to your table. The French frie flight was perfection. 


Cantina Los Mayas SF 100% Mexican wine list that will completely get you on board with their wine regions


Silvia Woodstock, NY A fantastic recommendation from a friend at one of the top auction houses. Their prosciutto & fig dish with goat cheese, endive, 'nduja, chili, honey, and oregano was revolutionary


Pick and Cheese Covent Garden, London I kid you not when I tell you this is one of the best, most thrilling, sense of urgency inducing, delicious and fun dining experiences available


Palomar SoHo, London Wildly better than the Ottolenghi meal I had while there. Grab a seat at the chef’s counter if you can



Annual events not to miss


UGCB The annual release of the top wines of Bordeaux 


Wine and Spirits Top 100 Literally the best event every year. Taste incredible wines, meet the winemakers and industry giants, and the food is always amazing. 





Best bites


3 euro Arancini in Sicily Seriously. As I was eating them I knew I’d crave them forever. One of these and a bottle of bubbly is all you need. 


Calamarata pasta I had this pasta shape for the first time while I as in Castiglione di Sicilia. It was served with pesto and the sweet raw red prawns the island is known for. The shape and texture is like calamari and such a fantastic inspiration for so many dishes. 


Coffee Granita with whipped cream and warm orange scented brioche I wrote a whole piece about how good this is and it doesn’t make sense why and how it works but it does, and I contemplated and proved it every morning. 


Fig leaf granita I became obsessed with toasted fig leaves last summer while I was in Antibes and then Tunisia, and then became obsessed with granita in Sicily, so by the time I got to Tunisia I’d already worked out this entire dish and we served it to our friends on our roof top and they too became obsessed. 


Escargot with sliced kumquats and miso butter from Snail Bar None of this makes sense, but I’m telling you, you will not believe how good it is and how well it works.


Iraqi dumplings (Kubba) from Juma in the Borough Market in London a torpedo shaped dumpling made of a rice shell, and filled with spiced ground lamb or beef served with a salty mango sauce. I had this on a walking food tour of London and it was a definite highlight I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. 


Warm Roasted Strawberries with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream I couldn’t stop buying strawberries this year, and I remembered a dish I had in the city years ago what was made with roasted strawberries. Somehow they slow roasted the strawberries so that they shrunk, but didn’t leach all of their juice, but instead became smaller and concentrated. I figured it out, removing the tops and roasting them with the flatside down in a convection oven until they looked just right. I whipped cream with a spoonful of powdered sugar and vanilla bean and served the berries still warm. They almost popped in your mouth. And your home will smell amazing. 


Savory Dutch Baby with Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche, and Caviar A last minute addition inspired by a viral TikTok recipe, and then we gilded the lily with Tsar Nikolai caviar. Insane.



Best tours/tasting experiences


Wiston Estate Chalk, England The only winery I made it to during my time in England, but likely the best. Beautifully made sparkling wine that rivals Champagne, and a farm to table restaurant that rivals the best in the US. I highly recommend hiring a driver if you are not comfortable driving on the WRONG side of the road, because this experience should not be missed. And they make a killer gin. 


COS Vittoria, Sicily If there is one wine that you associate with Sicily, it is COS. I’ve been in love with these wines since my first encounter with them, and visiting the amphora room and walking the grounds was absolutely wonderful. 


McEvoy Ranch Petaluma, CA I’ve wanted to visit this olive farm since I first heard about it in the early 2000s, and when given the opportunity to visit with Les Dames d’Escoffier I jumped at the chance. The grounds are stunning, and being there during harvest was truly a special experience. 


Cathiard Vineyard St. Helena, CA Florence and Daniel Cathiard of Smith-Haut-Lafitte have brought their talent in wine and hospitality to the Napa Valley. Now if only they would open a Caudalie spa…


Medlock Ames Healdsburg, CA A truly special property focused on sustainability and making perhaps one of the best Merlot’s in California. They have two tasting rooms, if you can go to the estate do it! (You may have to be a member though.)



Other


Trusted Housesitters If you are looking for some very cool travel opportunities, I highly recommend checking out and signing up for Trusted Housesitters. This site is for people in need of a housesitter for their pets or plants, and for people that will exchange those services for a place to stay. No money is exchanged on either end, but you do have to pay for the membership to the platform. 

I had initially signed us up for the platform for people to housesit for us when we lived in Oakland and had two dogs, but didn’t end up needing it. When I decided to travel to London this summer and saw how crazy expensive the hotels were I remembered to check out the site and found a great opportunity to stay at a country home (next to Hampton Court Palace) and take care of a two year old black lab named Ruby. It was the perfect opportunity to get out of the city, explore a bit of the countryside, and save several hundred dollars. 



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