Italian Wines from Alto Adige, Portugal + Champagne with Grape Minds Julie Glenn & Gina Birch



Are you curious about slow food and wine? What’s special about the Alto Adige region of Italy? Why should you consider Portugal and Dubai for your next wine-fueled trip?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with wine writer, Gina Birch and broadcaster Julie Glen, hosts of the Grape Minds podcast.

You can find the wines we discussed here.


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Join the live-stream video of this conversation on Wednesday at 7 pm eastern on Instagram Live Video, Facebook Live Video or YouTube Live Video.

I’ll be jumping into the comments as we watch it together so that I can answer your questions in real-time.

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  • How did Gina and Julie first meet?
  • What is it about Gina and Julie’s styles that complement each other in their work?
  • What is a “ride with” in the wine industry?
  • What was Gina’s most memorable “ride with” experience?
  • Which California-based faux pas left Julie mortified on a “ride with” with an important producer?
  • What’s Julie’s approach to talking about wines she doesn’t like?
  • Which embarrassing lesson did Julie learn about Pinot Grigio while living in Italy?
  • What makes the Naples Winter Wine Festival a unique and extraordinary experience?
  • Who were some of Gina and Julie’s favourite interviewees at the Naples Winter Wine Festival?
  • What can you expect from a visit to the Alto Adige region in Italy?
  • Which wines first tempted Julie and Gina to go deeper into the world of wine?
  • What’s the worst food and wine pairing that Gina has tried?
  • Why did a seven-course Champagne dinner leave a lasting impression on Julie?
  • What great, casual foods should you try pairing with Champagne?
  • What brought Julie to her studies in Italy?
  • Which chance encounter led to Julie meeting her husband in Italy?
  • Why should you add Portugal to your must-visit list as a wine lover
  • What was it like to attend the Expo 2020 World Expo in Dubai?
  • Does Dubai have a big wine scene?


Key Takeaways

  • I loved learning more about the Alto Adige region of Italy, and Julie’s story about Pinot Grigio. I’m adding those wines to my shopping list.
  • I’m fascinated with Dubai and what it would be like to visit that city. I’ll put that one on my bucket list.
  • I agree that wine is both subjective like art and at times embarrassing, and we can learn so much if we open ourselves up to those experiences.


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About Gina Birch and Julie Glenn

Gina Birch grew up in Florida, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and public relations from Troy University, in Alabama. Her first job was in radio news, which eventually led her to Fort Myers, Florida, where she hosted a top-rated morning show for almost 15 years. She also started writing about food, wine, spirits and travel for USA Today, the Napa Register and the Fort Myers News-Press.

Julie Glenn earned her Master’s degree in communication from the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy and is fluent in Italian. She also has an undergraduate degree in Mass Communication from the University of Missouri. She began her broadcasting career as a reporter/anchor/producer for both CBS and NBC affiliates. Before becoming the News Director at WGCU, the NPR affiliate for southwest Florida, Julie was the regular wine columnist for the Naples Daily News.

Gina and Julie had been friends for years and together they created Grape Minds, a wine podcast that’s also broadcasted on NPR. They talk about the people, culture, and history behind the wines, as well as wine travel and food pairings. They’ve also interviewed some of the best-known people in the wine world and as they note, have only destroyed one soundboard while tasting in the studio.



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Julie Glenn 0:00
is called Enoteca Fontana. They have the best wines. I’m sitting there, and I was like, I’ll just take your Pinot Grigio and it comes out and it’s pink. And I sat there and wait and wait and wait. And I was like, I’m sorry, I ordered Pinot ratio. What is this? Because that’s our peanut ratio. I was like, Really, she bought the bottle and showed it to me. And that’s when it occurred to me is Krishna because the skins are grey because it has a little bit of colour. And when you do it the way they really do it there, they have a little bit of pink to it. So I was like, Okay, thank you. So down, but I learned he learned by embarrassment pretty easily in the wine world, right?

Natalie MacLean 0:36
Oh, in life, isn’t that like the things we remember most are when we’re mortified. Those emotions, they lock in those memories, even more so than sometimes the positive ones but yeah, you’ll never forget those things. core memory

Natalie MacLean 0:56
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine, the love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations. Oh, that’s the blend here on the unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 156. Are you curious about Slow Food and Wine? What’s really special about the Alto a DJ region of Italy? And why should you consider Portugal and Dubai for your next wind fuel trip. You’ll get those answers and more wind tips in our chat today with Gina Burch and Julie Glen who host the great minds podcast on NPR radio. In the shownotes, you’ll find a link to the full transcript of our conversation. also links to Gina and Julie’s podcast and website. How you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find a live stream video of this conversation on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube on Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie Maclean comm forward slash 156. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, there’ll be lots of sales this Friday. So if you’re shopping for wine lovers in your life or for yourself, let me recommend one of my favourite wine gadgets. So first, a little context. Recording a bottle of still wine is relatively easy, but what about bubblies the mushroom shaped cork is impossible to get back into the bottle because they’re originally inserted under hydraulic pressure. Because the pressure inside a bottle of bubbly is about 90 pounds per square inch, the same as citybus tires. Plus, they expand once you pop them out. So you need a stopper designed to reseal sparkling wine bottles. Good news, they have them. These simple metal caps have two small wings that clamp under the lip of the bottle and have an internal plastic seal and they work well to preserve your bubbly for a few days. They usually cost about $15 or less. Of course you can always get fancier types, and you can get them at many kitchenware, retailers or liquor stores as well as online. I don’t have a particular favourite brand, but I’ll link to one online. Be sure to keep your resale bottle cold in the fridge. And also let’s just clear up one folklore myth that putting the handle of a spoon in a bottle also works. It doesn’t because science the bottle is left open so the bubbles dissipate and the wine is exposed to oxygen, which is what eventually will turn it off. I’ll suggest some more useful gadgets and upcoming episodes for your holiday shopping. Okay on with the show

Natalie MacLean 4:17
Gina Burch grew up in Florida. Hello Gina and Hello. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and public relations from Troy University in Alabama. Her first job was in radio news which eventually led her to Fort Myers where she lives today and they are she hosted a top rated morning show for almost 15 years. She also started writing about food and wine and travel and spirits for USA Today. That apple register and Fort Myers news press. We also have with us Julie Glen. Hello Jude. She earned her master’s degree in communication from the Slow Food University of gastro nomic sciences in Piedmont Italy and she’s fluent in Italian She also has an undergraduate degree in mass communications from the University of Missouri. She began her broadcasting career as a reporter anchor and producer for both CBS and NBC affiliates. And before becoming news director at W GCU, the NPR affiliate for Southwest Florida. Julie was the regular wine columnist for The Naples Daily News. Gina and Julie have been friends for years. And they host the great minds podcast, which is also broadcasted on NPR, they talk about the people culture and history behind wines, as well as travelling food pairings. And they’ve also interviewed some of the best known people in the wine world. And as a note, I love this. They’ve only destroyed one soundboard while tasting in the studio. Oops. And they join me now from Florida. Welcome, Gina. And Julie, so glad to have you here with us.

Gina Birch 5:55
Oh, thank you for having us. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Natalie MacLean 5:58
Fantastic. Okay, good. So tell us how you met. Where were you? Take it away. Like how did you two ladies meet?

Gina Birch 6:06
You know, I feel like I’ve known Julie forever.

Julie Glenn 6:09
met you at bistro 41, the former restaurant in bell tower in Fort Myers. And when I came back from the master’s degree in Italy, I thought it’d be a freelance writer, but it was the recession. So no, so I ended up selling wine. So my job as a wine salesperson was to go to restaurant to restaurant, a store to store try to sell my wines, and was always going to be sure 41 Because it was just a fun place to hang out. And Tina’s best friend was managing there. And she was always doing the wine tastings. And when you go there, she was always doing 10,000 things. So you wait for at least an hour. So I would always be sitting next to Gina who’s also tasting along with her friend, Cindy. So I was kind of like who is this person? Why she just kind of moving in on the wine tastes you just tried to get at first I was like, Ooh, this. But then I was starting to get to know what I was like she is genuinely interested and educated and actually a super cool person. So my initial like, tight squeeze on free tastings. Pretty quick insistently become fast friends, and she’s one of the best people I’ve met in the last probably 15 years.

Gina Birch 7:12
Oh, thank you. You know, Julie and I have similar backgrounds, we both have a passion for wine and our broadcast background as well. So we were kind of kindred spirits from the beginning. Yes,

Natalie MacLean 7:23
it sounds like and is that kind of why you think the two of you work so well together? The chemistry? I mean, you obviously share a passion for wine. But are you ying and yang? Or is there contrasting personalities that somehow fit together in another way?

Gina Birch 7:37
I would say so. I mean, my friends joke and call me, the United Nations, Switzerland because I always try to be Colville, but not so bad, or it’s good. Or I try to find some redeeming quality about even the worst wine. Julie will just say this tastes like but you know, or something. There’s nothing to say in her face. She does not have a poker face. So you can tell you know, just get all squinched up and like, Okay, well, that’s how we are kind of opposite. But it makes it fun.

Julie Glenn 8:05
Absolutely. Genius is more the fun, goes out does all the stuff and she’s that person. I’m the one that’s gonna bury my nose in a book and figure out the entire history of like, for example, where the heck Zinfandel came from, and I will go on about it for hours and bore everyone and I can’t read a room and know that there is like just trying to get drunk and that yeah, I’m that guy. Whereas Jean is more like chilled out. Yeah.

Natalie MacLean 8:30
That sounds like a good match. Speaking of pairings. So can you remember the first bottle you to share together? Talked about?

Julie Glenn 8:37
I think my favourite was whenever Bob Broman would come to town. And I’d bring him in there and his wines are just so good. And everyone smile,

Natalie MacLean 8:45
you’d be there. And for those who don’t know, where’s Bob Berman from?

Julie Glenn 8:48
He’s in Napa? Okay, Brahmin cellars. He’s in Napa. And he’s awesome. He had a huge history of winemaking. And then he started his own thing. A few years before I started selling wine. So he was one of my first ride with ever. And he’s always consistently been my favourite winemaker as a human being and has good wines. And sadly, he stopped making serraj. But he makes mainly just cab and Sauvignon Blanc, but Isami on Blanca is bomb.

Natalie MacLean 9:14
Wow. And you mentioned Radware. So explain what you mean by that?

Julie Glenn 9:19
Well, in the wine industry, one of the things that they do, which is a weird, really strange, steep learning curve, is you’re a sales rep, you go to a hotel, you pick up the wine maker or winery principle. Sometimes you get a national sales manager to, which is helpful because they help the selling they’re better at that, because that’s like what they do. But people like to meet the winemakers and the people in the winery. So you take them to all your accounts, and they have better luck usually selling their wines into the wine list and things like that. So they weirdly have to get into random sales people’s cars, as some of the stories I’ve heard have been hilarious about how gross cars are of salespeople because they like living in you know I just like it probably one inch layer of French fries on the bottom. Oh, no time. You know, but it’s an interesting thing to ride with.

Natalie MacLean 10:10
And I know you both have ride with stories. So Gina, what is your favourite ride with story?

Gina Birch 10:16
I had a little convertible. I mean, like whatever was considered a backseat was really not a backseat. I was helping a friend in the distribution company pickup Mills Venky. Mills is famous. He’s a pioneer in Napa. He was the first wine maker to get 100 points from Parker when he was working at Groff Wow, the Saddleback cellars. He’s a big guy. And he had a big suitcase. And like, how am I going to get this in my car? So I had to put the top down. I had to like somehow wedge the suitcase in the back because I had no trunk. Wedge kneels in and then we went to the first place where I was taking him and I was helping. I was going to open some of the wine for him and I broke a cork. Oh, no. And I’m like I cannot broken friend and Mel’s van gays, corks and now like now I’m sweating. I’m getting nervous, like, what am I doing? I shouldn’t be here. It was just horrible. But he was such a gracious guy. And we ended up having a great time together. Oh, that

Natalie MacLean 11:09
sounds great. And Julie, you do you have a particular drive with story.

Julie Glenn 11:13
Probably one of the more embarrassing moments of my life had just gotten back from Italy. And I had just kind of started. So my mind is all in Italy, grapes, Italian winemakers, Italian wine styles, all that stuff. But in southwest Florida, California is king. So everybody loves everything from Napa. And that’s pretty much it. So everybody knows the ins and out and who’s who and all that stuff. So my ride with that day was with Dr. Rivanna. Who owns Rivanna, obviously. So he gets in my car and we’re driving around and he’s kind of talking and trying to engage with me. And I’m just kind of smiling and nodding because I don’t really know the California scene at the time. He said Well, my consulting winemakers, Heidi Burton, I was like, okay, he goes, that is sorry, I don’t hold the door open and tuck and roll and get out of my. The rest of the day. He barely said anything.

Natalie MacLean 12:07
She’s a famous consulting winemaker, he’ll Yeah.

Julie Glenn 12:11
So I thought really, and then when I looked her up later and told somebody else in the wine business, that’s what I said. They were like, no wonder he fell asleep later in the car and didn’t. He was very nice. But he was he wasn’t like a total jerk about it. But I’m so mortified. How do you not know who Heidi Barrett is. But I only worked for a few months in the United States. So I was just kind of out of it. It wasn’t my scene at the time. But it became my scene pretty quick. It was more

Natalie MacLean 12:35
absorbed lots of tips as you drove along. It almost sounds like you’re on a book tour like you’re taking this author, but instead the winemaker to all of these wine shops instead of bookshop so on so you pick up a lot of tips as you go along. And have you guys ever disagreed over a particular bottle, or wine or region.

Gina Birch 12:53
I think we disagreed over bottles before because even though we’re a lot alike, we still have our own personal preferences. And you know, wine is so subjective. It’s like art and you taste different things on different days. What is it a root or a fruit or some weeks? All I taste is cherry and everything. You know, it’s just different. But we don’t have any major disagreements. I think we both appreciate quality wine, whether it’s a great it’s one of our favourites or not. We appreciate a good well made wine.

Natalie MacLean 13:20
And what if you come across now I know Julie blunt. But how do you handle? Or do you even take on air? wine that you both really don’t like? Like, do you talk about wines you don’t like?

Julie Glenn 13:31
I probably shouldn’t, but sometimes I do. I feel bad. I’m not saying it’s me. I’ll always say it’s me. I won’t say the wind, like objectively is crap unless it’s flawed. But I won’t say this is just horrible. The worst thing I’ve ever I wouldn’t do that. But it’s just, this is not working for me right now. That’s usually what I’ll say. And that means to me, I’m not recognising the quality. But I do appreciate the effort. But I just don’t think that I would ever buy it just because it doesn’t work for my taste. I mean, it may be the best thing in the world for some people, but it’s just not for me. Sure.

Natalie MacLean 14:07
My standard line is this is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. That’s a good one. So

Julie Glenn 14:12
what newspapers

Natalie MacLean 14:15
Julio says I have a story about Pinot Grigio sure that

Julie Glenn 14:18
one this is awesome. Perfect. If you’re ever in the town of Parma, which the school is in Piedmont but the campus I was on for that first year communication was near Parma. So I lived in Parma, Italy for a year. There’s a place on the main street, which been 15 years so I forget, but it’s called Enoteca Fontana, but it’s not right next to a fountain so it’s a little confusing, but they have the best wines. I’m sitting there, and I just wanted a still white wine. That was Prosecco doubt, because that is Prosecco country. But I didn’t want Prosecco at that moment. So I just wanted to still wait. So I sat down, and I was still new to the area. So I kind of looked at the thing and I was like, I’ll just take your Pinot Grigio and it comes out and it’s pink. And I sat there and wait and wait and wait. And I was like, I’m sorry, I ordered peanut ratio. What is this because that’s our peanut ratio. I was like, Really, she bought the bottle and showed it to me. And that’s when it occurred. To me. It’s crucial because the skins are grey, because it has a little bit of colour. And when you do it the way they really do it there, they have a little bit of pink to it. So I was like, Okay, thank you. Also done, but I learned, you learn by embarrassment pretty easily in the wine world, right?

Natalie MacLean 15:30
Oh, in life? Isn’t that how like the things we remember most or when we’re mortified? Or those emotions? They lock in those memories, even more so than sometimes the positive ones but yeah, you never forget those things.

Julie Glenn 15:42
core memory. Yes.

Natalie MacLean 15:45
And Gina, let’s make sure we’re handing out the embarrassment equally. Do you have an embarrassing life story?

Gina Birch 15:52
Well, I think that Mel’s Venky one ranks up there for me. There probably more than I can count when I was learning like like Julie said, sometimes I act like I know, you know walk up and like well, why are we tasting in this order? I said that in Oregon was like I said, because that’s how we do it here. And I’m like, Yes, sir. I did pull up on a crush pad once in a rental car, just a small winery. And it was just this big, concrete slab. So I just rolled right up and came out. Oh my god, he yelled Get off my crush. And I looked around like this looks like a parking lot to me. I’m sorry. And I bet

Natalie MacLean 16:29
they do. And that of course is where the trucks come in and dump the grapes. But yeah, you might be in the way there.

Gina Birch 16:35
Yeah. We didn’t hit it off so well. But

Natalie MacLean 16:41
so you both live in the Naples Fort Myers area. And of course the Naples winter Wine Festival is famous. Why is it unlike other wine festivals? What goes on?

Gina Birch 16:50
You know, I think it’s the combination of things. And I don’t know how they were able to tap into this. But you’ve got celebrity and star power. You’ve got people flying in from all over the world paying $15,000 to come here. So this is not your regular weekend wine festival. And the lots that they auction off are ridiculous. And they have McLaren’s that are specially made, you know cars just for this. They have these magnums and trips around the world with famous winemakers and people come here, they have money, they want to spend it. They want to have fun. It’s like an exclusive club and they’ve raised over $220 million. It’s one of the highest grossing in the last 20 years. And what’s the cause the children’s charities so they go through a lot of hospitals and education and they’ve really done a lot. Naples is one of those communities where you have the haves and the have nots. I know there’s a big distinction there. And that’s helping to kind of make that a little more even, I guess. Sure. It’s kind of

Julie Glenn 17:49
weird because you have Naples, which is really high end. And then 20 minutes away, you have farmwork, a village called Immokalee. And it’s a great little town. It’s a little tight knit town. But there’s a lot of need there. So as Naples children education, foundation, and CF, and they have tonnes of money. They’re in a modular with a lot of programmes for after school. There’s an entire giant building. It’s really fabulous. What they’ve done is terrific. I think one of the Appeals is that it’s very international. It’s not very site specific. It’s not American Only it’s not Washington, it’s not Napa, it’s Naples, and everybody in the world comes and I think some of the winemakers and principles. You know how you get to go to a convention and you meet other people who do the same stuff. It’s just kind of fun. So I think that they like coming to this to reconnect with people that they know. It’s kind of like I don’t want to say it’s a conference, but they all socialise, you can talk to each other. And then the people who spend tonnes of money on the wire and get to talk with people that are buying it from so they really like that kind of interaction.

Natalie MacLean 18:49
Awesome and paying $15,000 Just to get in the door, then they bid on all of these exclusive lots and things that it’s amazing. And there’s lots of dinners to write at people’s homes with winemakers.

Julie Glenn 19:01
Yeah, and man, you should see it. They have like interior designers come in and completely transform a penthouse condo. And they had one look at like the interior of a giant plane one time.

Natalie MacLean 19:13
Oh my gosh, just for the dinner. Yeah, just good dinner.

Gina Birch 19:16
Yeah, the hosts are like throwing a wedding. It’s like, you know, they spend that much money on florists and entertainment designers. Yeah. It’s it’s insane

Julie Glenn 19:24
musicians. And then they have chefs come from all over the country in the world who cook in these people’s incredible kitchens, which I don’t know if they’ve ever been cooking on themselves because the restaurants are always full. And they have beautiful kitchens. So the chefs come in, they’re like, dang, but they come in and do the cooking for the dinner. And then they have a sommelier assigned to each wine dinner. And then it’s paired with a given winemaker. So like Chateau Petrus was here one year and it was with I think it was. I don’t remember that a chef, I think from Chicago, and we could smell it and I was Just like those are great moments. And then you know, the owner of Chateau Petrus is there for dinner too. And they’re sitting there side by side, enjoying the wine with this wonderful chef prepared meal. And they’re all top star chefs.

Natalie MacLean 20:15
Wow. My only question is do they take volunteer sommeliers to pour wine or even just washed glasses.

Julie Glenn 20:20
Interestingly, they do take some volunteers that will help with pouring wine especially at the auction you’ll see every wine sales rep minds up to be able to be part of that. In this area. It’s like a who’s who of aurvey in the wine industry in southwest Florida. That has been here long enough to get their name in there. And then they’ll be pouring wine for people with the auction tables. The wine that is flowing, it’s not like you know, your house wine. It’s like they’re just pouring ball off a bottle of Chateau Mantashe. I mean, champagne. I mean, you’re just like,

Natalie MacLean 20:49
wine. Have an awesome? Yes. Oh my gosh. I know. So one year you both do interviews with the people who come in which is great opportunity. But you met Salvatore Ferragamo, tell us who he is and what happened.

Gina Birch 21:04
Well, Ferragamo, the house of Ferragamo. I mean Italian designers, the shoes the apparel is just top notch. It’s expensive. It’s beautiful. It’s elegant. And he also makes wine. They have a like a I can’t say Chateau because it’s in Tuscany. But they’ve got a place where you could go. Hospitality is a big deal and like an experience. Yes. And Julie and I are sitting there like Oh, Salvatore Ferragamo. And then we start looking at oh my gosh, we were gonna

Julie Glenn 21:33
choose for less shoes. Sticker shoes, and

Gina Birch 21:39
I’m looking like he just stepped out of a magazine. Just the suit that fits perfect and the shoes and he’s so gracious and handsome. Yeah.

Julie Glenn 21:51
Like I had my buzzer teefin You know?

Natalie MacLean 21:55
It’s great. And how was he as an interviewee

Julie Glenn 21:58
he was really nice. He was super cool.

Gina Birch 22:01
Very charming. Very nice.

Julie Glenn 22:02
My favourite Italian that was charming was when we talked with Ferrari from Trentino dock, when we were like so much came first the car or the wine. The wine. Cars didn’t happen till the early 1900s And we’ve been around since forever. I’m like, Okay, thank you for straightening that out. But he was sweet, too. I love that Trento duck stuff.

Natalie MacLean 22:26
Yeah, absolutely. And you’re also drawn Julie to the alto, a DJ region. Why is that what is unique about that particular Italian region.

Julie Glenn 22:36
I just think it’s so overlooked and it’s so beautiful. It’s beautiful to visit. It’s not commercialised. One of the things that turns me off and makes me kind of sad in the wine world is treating one as a commodity. And it feels like I’m an awful lot of data. Don’t do that yet. Hopefully that ever will. But I really think that white wines from Italy are some of the most overlooked and delicious things in the world. Personally and also Aditya has an incredible job with them. When I was there at some little tiny hotel that I rolled up to with no plans. I ate at their little restaurant and I had a diverse demeanour. That was like a life changing and that grape I had dismissed for so many years. But that diverse metre was it now I’ve tried every conversion or I can ever since and I’m seeing a little bit of it. And it was like their house wine. It was incredible.

Natalie MacLean 23:24
Wow. It’s like you’re trying to recapture that memory like the restaurant critic and ratatouille reminded of his mother’s past. Was that the wine? That was your aha wine that started at all? Or was there wine before that, that really said to like, oh, I need to know more about wine.

Julie Glenn 23:41
Things have changed a lot since the early 90s. But that’s when I first started learning about wine and I am not going to be too proud. And I will just admit that my aha wine was Caymus conundrum in 1993 or four

Natalie MacLean 23:57
full bodied Napa Valley Wine.

Julie Glenn 23:59
Mm hmm. It was a big good white wine blend. I really liked it back then. And then when my French friend told me this is like a red wine drinkers white, and back then it kind of was that I was like, Okay, I feel a bit better. And then I started getting into Shiraz, because that was the era. You know, when you’re coming off of coke and Diet Coke as a teenager, it kind of makes sense to go with more fruit forward stuff when you’re young 20s person, so I can kind of see that, but that’s what I did. Yes,

Natalie MacLean 24:25
absolutely. And Gina there’s no wine shame here. But what was the one that sort of was your aha kind of wine?

Gina Birch 24:31
Well, I was a wine snob early on because I knew which type of wines in I preferred. Oh Beringer or Sutter Home? No, I don’t want that. Yes, I want that. No, but I think the wine that really flipped it for me was a Jack London Zinfandel. And this is why it did because it was the first time I put a lot of effort into cooking a meal to match the wine. And when I made this beef dish and picked this particular wine, I had a little help choosing which one, it was just like this, you know? And it’s like that’s how food and wine are supposed to be. And then I was like, oh, you know, I had that moment where I’m thinking differently about wine. It’s not just a knock back and I always knew food went with wine. I mean, as a kid, we have a little bit of wine with dinner, but this was when I owned it, and I really learned it in appreciated it on my own as an adult.

Natalie MacLean 25:27
Wow, staying on food and wine pairings. Have you ever had a really weird or unusual food and wine pairing Gina?

Gina Birch 25:34
I went to a wine dinner and they had something grilled pineapple and Pinot Noir. really did it. And I was like, oh, and I thought, Okay, I’m gonna be open. Maybe this piano has some more tropical notes or maybe it’s got a brew laid kind of note that might go with Kiss, you know, pianos are all over the board. And it didn’t work. You know, I understand what they were going for after the chef explained, but it just didn’t work. I thought this is just a waste of a course for me.

Natalie MacLean 26:04
Oh, that’s a crime against Pino, then yeah, yeah. That’s too bad. How about you Julie? Do you have any memorable food wine pairings and or any weird ones that you’ve tasted over the years?

Julie Glenn 26:17
This is a memorable one. And Gina was there remember when we went to that champagne, five course dinner that Brian Rowling made all the food? Oh, yeah. That closed. I did not expect champagne to go with what was like five or seven courses. Of course. Brian is a really good chef here locally and he has a catering thing and he is just phenomenal. But you give him a challenge. We’re going to have seven courses with all champagne and different champagnes like different vintage Rosae all different things. And it was just mind blowing. I fully did not expect it to be that good. And it was incredible. Every single dish went perfectly every one of the different champagnes. I don’t remember what champagne it was though. Was it volunteer?

Gina Birch 27:01
I gosh, I can’t remember. But you know, some of them are so yeasty and big. You’d need a substantial food to eat with that you just can’t sip it. You know, you need to really enjoy it. I think,

Julie Glenn 27:11
well, you can if you really challenge yourself. Yeah. Give me that you can’t use it. I know you.

Gina Birch 27:17
Any champagne out of bed, I would cuddle it all night long.

Natalie MacLean 27:21
It’s great. But that is a good point to make. Julie like we often don’t think of champagne or any other sparkling wine is anything but the beginning of the meal or for a toast or whatever. But it’s one of the most food friendly wines on the planet between the natural city and that swarm of bubbles. Was the chef able to pair it with like a MIDI dish as well.

Julie Glenn 27:40
He did. I remember there was like a kind of a short rib type thing. But done on the light side without like tomato or anything like that. So it was fantastic. But it was very rich. It was like on a triple cream. Kind of a situation. So that acidity is cut right through. But another great champagne hearing is potato chips or fried chicken.

Gina Birch 27:58
Oh yeah. Love it. Love that. Totally

Natalie MacLean 27:59
the shabby chic. Yeah. I always say it’s like rhinestones on jeans, you know, you can dress the up or down and yeah. Night just with the wine itself. And that’s fantastic. So I mentioned, Julie, that you went to slow food University in Italy. What was that? Like? What did you do as part of the studies there? Why did you decide to go there in the first place?

Julie Glenn 28:22
That was a member of Slow Food for years, because I’ve always liked that idea of yeah, there’s fast food. But let’s not forget where it all originates and why we eat, what we eat, what we eat, and all that stuff. I always thought that was really interesting, because of my rabbit hole nature of having to find everything out. But I always was a member of Slow Food. And then I got a thing in the mail. And I was really getting tired TV news because it’s a drag after a while. It was a thing saying we’re starting this communication programme. It’s a one year master’s programme. Go ahead and apply. I’m like, Yeah, apply. If they accept me, I’ll go ahead and go it’s a sign. Because I believe in signs all the time. So I’m kind of like, well, that’s a sign if they want me then they clearly it’s something I need to do. And they were only accepting 23 students from all around the world that made it up with 23 students from 11 different countries. And they accepted me so I was like, Well, I have to make this happen. So I packed up one giant suitcase like a big gross American and moved over there for a year my dog and a backpack. I was so embarrassed because there’s no Americans with Disabilities Act over in Europe. So you’re changing trains. You’re like, oh, we downstairs man. It was a workout. But I finally got there. It was a challenge but the year was incredible. Once I finally found an apartment speaking no Italian at all when I got there, I had taken three years of French which was useless and is now completely gone. Because the Italian crowd there’s a finite amount of space in the brain I think for languages for me, so the French is gone. But the Italians there but it wasn’t when I got there. The courses were all taught in English which was great. We had to study five main things which is pasta, wine, cheese. cured meats and olive oil.

Natalie MacLean 30:02
I love that curriculum

Gina Birch 30:03
that sounds like Oh, yeah. All work. Oh, yeah,

Julie Glenn 30:07
it was terrible. I don’t know how I lived through it. We had what they call stars, which is where you go to different places. So we went to compania, Tuscany, many different regions throughout Italy and then we had to go to Burgundy, France where I ate more Scargo in a weekend I think anybody ever has, because I love that. And then we had to also go to Spain with Barcelona and we went to Germany. I love

Gina Birch 30:32
how she says we had to go we had to go to Germany

Julie Glenn 30:37
classroom ever had to go to Germany, or like, have any good food. Let’s go somewhere else. Good. Actually, it turned out it was really good. It was super informative. I learned a tonne. There’s nothing like being there to learn things. And that’s what Gina is so good about getting to do because she travels so much.

Natalie MacLean 30:53
I travel so much. I’m gonna ask her about that in a minute. But you met your husband there. How did that? Was he a student Julie?

Julie Glenn 31:00

Natalie MacLean 31:01
no. So where did you pick him up?

Julie Glenn 31:04
Restaurant restaurant eating potato field raviolis which sounds redundant but it was the lightest fluffy potato like MASH care like it was so good. Inside of a ravioli. I’m in Parma, which is ravioli land, and instead of a truffle cream sauce. So I’m sitting here cutting it with my butter knife trying to make it last well, he thinks I’m eating steak. He leans over as somebody walked in the door. He walked in the door of the restaurant. I was like, No, there’s trouble. And I was right. Was I not Gina Kurama. So he comes in sits like a table away. And he says to be so funny, which means Do you like me?

Natalie MacLean 31:42
So he was Italian?

Julie Glenn 31:44
Yeah, he’s speaking Italian. I don’t speak Italian. I got a little dictionary. And he’s like, do you like meat? That was his line. At least he didn’t say sausage. incarnate and like, I’m not eating meat. What are you talking about? I’m having a ravioli that’s filled with to his and I’m a vegetarian. Comes with a couple other girls from class. But yeah, it was a quite the Come on. But anyway, the next night I met him in the Piazza at eight o’clock, because he sent me a text saying, I will see you in the Piazza at eight. I was looking it up in my dictionary, and I asked the other people in the class who spoke Italian I was like, What is this mean? And like, it says See you on Piazza Garibaldi at eight will be okay. I guess I’m going to go there. And of course I showed up in like Eskimo boots because it’s cold in Italy don’t do that. They’re walking around and stilettos on cobblestone streets with ice and snow. And I’m wearing these Ugg boots, jeans and a giant fat coat. Not the Italian style. And he’s like in this beautiful trench coat. Nice shoes. Yes. You look like an Eskimo. He’s like, Yeah, it’s cool. What are you talking about?

Natalie MacLean 32:55
Wow. And it still worked out? You know, do like meet See you in the Piazza. You look like an Eskimo that doesn’t sound like the unfolding of a love story. No, it’s alright, I’m

Julie Glenn 33:08
13 years old. We’ve been married now. So fantastic. Wow. And I don’t think anybody saw that coming. anybody knew us? I don’t think it’d be working out. But it’s worked out. Great.

Natalie MacLean 33:18
That is great. Awesome. And Gina, now you do travel a lot for what you do, especially your column for USA Today. The 10 Best called Tell us about that.

Gina Birch 33:29
So 10 Best is a division of USA Today that’s travel related. And I am the local editor for Fort Myers. So I will write 10 best Italian restaurants 10 best wine bars. 10 best things to do with your kids. So it covers a large spectrum. But also when I travel like went to Portugal 10 reasons why everyone’s flocking to Portugal.

Natalie MacLean 33:51
Oh, tell us about those. I’d love to hear about why do we want to go to Portugal? Yeah, so

Gina Birch 33:55
this was pre pandemic and some of the reasons were, it’s affordable. The hospitality. The food is amazing. The wine is spectacular. The scenery. They’ve have, I think more UNESCO world heritage sites than any other country or per capita or something. I might have that statistic wrong, but I mean, they’ve got just such a diverse culture and climate and miles and miles of coastline and the inland area, the Alentejo where some of the wines are it’s just phenomenal. I think a lot of them are underrated like Julie was saying the Alto Adige aids. I think the same with a lot of the Portuguese wines and I just loved that whole area. It was wonderful.

Natalie MacLean 34:34
Did you get into Oh, Porto, the town where all the barrels are ageing, and it smells like alcohol heaven all the time.

Gina Birch 34:42
It was crazy. You know, we went in some of those caves and they were like some ports there that were over 100 years old. They had cobwebs on them. And it was just a really interesting place to discover. Lovely.

Natalie MacLean 34:53
Oh my gosh, and then recently you were in Dubai

Gina Birch 34:56
went to Dubai for the World Expo. And that was supposed to be Last year, but we all know what happened last year, right? Nobody went anywhere last year. And everything in Dubai is over the top to begin with. And this expo was it’s like 1000 acres. They’re almost 200 pavilions. And this is the first time every country had their own pavilion. I’ve never been to a World Fair World Expo before. So I didn’t know what to expect. But this was just mind blowing, really, and to discover a lot of these different countries. And most of the pavilions had some kind of food and wine, which was really fascinating for me to try all these different cuisines I just wanted to eat. It’s like Epcot on steroids, you know, just

Natalie MacLean 35:34
all the pavilions? It’s, uh, you know, all the countries, probably a little bit more authentic than Disney? I don’t know. Yeah,

Gina Birch 35:42
much more, much more. And it wasn’t just food and wine, you know, they had innovations and technology. And there were so many more things to the expo than just food and wine. So and

Natalie MacLean 35:54
does Dubai have a wine culture? Or is wine illegal there, I get that mixed up as to what’s going on

Gina Birch 35:59
Dubai’s Muslim, so you’re not supposed to drink. But in the hotels and in restaurants, and most of the restaurants are in hotels, that’s how they get away with it, that you are able to have alcohol. And I mean, I had some of the best craft cocktails I’ve had in Dubai, and I’ve had wine was from all over the world. I did not find out how they imported if it’s like a three tier system, or if it’s government controlled, or if they let foreign companies bring it in. I’m not sure how that works. But in every restaurant, there was a decent wine list. So I didn’t have any trouble having one with my food.

Natalie MacLean 36:34
That’s great. And it’s a city sort of in the middle of the desert isn’t it was Sex in the City, the movie film there some

Gina Birch 36:40
Sex in the City was in Abu Dhabi, which is neighbouring Dubai. Okay, a little more conservative there. So we did go there. And I had to cover a little be more conservative about shoulders and knees and those kinds of things. But yeah, it is in the desert. It’s the Arabian Sea, or the Arabian Gulf, which on the other side, people call the Persian Gulf, but it’s the same body of water. So they really have to fly everything in. So it’s really expensive. But I’m telling you, it is just like no place I’ve ever been and if you ever have a chance to go to Dubai, the architecture is insane. And the technology and yeah, they do have fashion that everyone’s all covered up. It’s just a really intriguing place to visit. Oh,

Natalie MacLean 37:17
fantastic. Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Julian Gina. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I love learning more about the ultimate DJ region of Italy, and especially Julie’s story about Pinot Grigio. I’m adding those wines to my shopping list. Number two, I’m fascinated with Dubai and what it’d be like to visit that city. I’m putting that one on my bucket list. And number three, I agree that wine is both subjective, like art and at times, highly embarrassing, and that we can learn so much if we open ourselves up to those experiences. In the shownotes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation. Links to Julian Gina’s podcast and website. How you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class. And where you can find the live stream video of this conversation on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. This Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie forward slash 156. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Gina and Julie. In the meantime, if you missed episode 89 go back and take a listen. I chat with some of the Chris Scott about some really great wine tasting tips. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite. Finally, people are starting to realise you can learn about wine and food pairing at home. And it’s easier. I mean, there’s no babysitter, there’s no driving to the class. There’s no be there on Wednesday or it doesn’t work. It’s very flexible. And they get to meet wine lovers around the world. They get lifetime access to the course. So a lot of those factors work in favour of online courses. And I think it wasn’t until COVID changed our minds about a lot of things that we could do online that more people realised Hey, it’s possible. It’s fun. And I need something to do during quarantine anyway, so I may as well learn about wine and come out stronger when the lockdowns over if you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who be interested in the wines and trends we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a Zesty Italian white wine that’s a little pink around the edges

Natalie MacLean 39:52
you don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast especially the secret full body bonus episodes that don’t announce on social media so subscribe for free now at Natalie Maclean comm forward slash subscribe, maybe here next week cheers