When I travel there are invariably a few experiences where time seems to stand still and I almost wait for a movie director to jump out from behind a pillar and yell “CUT!”.
On a recent trip to Lisbon, I had just such an evening. I met up with a friend of a friend at his favorite wine bar- Garrafaia Alfaia- a place that would quickly become my own preferred spot to grab a glass of wine or bite to eat. By the end of three days, I had visited as many times, warmly greeted by the affable owner, Pedro, each time with a kiss to each cheek.
Owner, Pedro, opening up for the evening
There are only 6 tables where Pedro has curated an outstanding collection of Portuguese wines and serves delicious small plates. It’s difficult to find, but worth each wrong turn inevitably made along the bright, tile covered streets of Lisbon.
Inside the tiny but mighty wine bar
I was new to town, new to Portugal, jet lagged, a friend of a friend, but André graciously agreed to meet me over a glass of wine. We’re both members of the #winelover community and he was happy to share his travel tips and favorite sips. The #winelover community is all about connection, travel, wine, and something less tangible that is greater than the sum of these disparate parts. I like to say that its founder, Luiz Alberto, is a connector- but really he’s more of a collector; of great stories, experiences, wines, but mostly of people who share these same passions.
André and a local wine journalist set up an impromptu tasting of three Portuguese dessert wines. Viscous amber and liquid gold glistened in stemware as I was told we would have a blind tasting. “A tasting?”, I asked, “or a testing?”. Andre’s eyes glittered briefly, mischievously, and it was then that I knew I was in for a bit of both.
A proper assessment of my #winelover status could only be made over the country’s greatest liquid treasures with three Masters of Port. We chatted, sipped, and assessed some of Portugal’s finest as the hours passed by.
The tenor of the evening changed abruptly when two gentlemen from out of town entered to a raucous and familiar greeting. One pulled a guitar from the wall, kept there for impromptu serenades at his favorite watering hole. As a professional musician Pierre Aderne travels the world, but Lisbon is one of his home bases- Garrafaia Alfaia a stop he never misses. The cozy establishment is the Portuguese version of “Cheers” where friends gather from around to world to lose themselves over a glass of wine and reconnect with old friends.
As Pierre began to play I was transfixed. In Portugal there is a style of music called “Fado”- it was described to me many times as “music that touches your soul.” The wine, incidentally, was also described this way. Portuguese culture is as passionate, intense, and distinctive as its signature music and wines.
An older gentleman from Brazil took the seat next to mine, utilizing the shared wooden bench as a percussive instrument to accompany the guitar. The effect was spellbinding- I could both hear and feel the accompaniment to the soulful renditions as bottle after bottle of wine appeared on the table.
As our tasting turned into a reunion, English switched to Portuguese. I sat in the corner of it all as the group of old friends, wine lovers, and travelers came together in a way that only seems to happen on the most serendipitous of evenings.
It’s a night I won’t soon forget and certainly the night I fell in love with Portugal- the country whose music, wine, and people touched my soul.
I’m often asked why I’ve decided to make a career in wine and the answer, like many, is a circuitous one. Not many people start their careers in wine, but almost everyone you ask will be able to point to one or two seminal experiences in their lives that changed the game, pointing them towards their eventual career.
My Dad introduced us to great food at an early age and we were permitted to enjoy a small glass of wine on special occasions. His favored tipple was- and remains- heavily oaked American chardonnay, and so that was my reference point for all wine from a young age.
My family has always believed in spending money on travel over material things- we’ve all got a serious case of wanderlust, and it’s often when I’m furthest from home that I feel the most myself.
When I was 16 we took a trip to Paris and the Loire Valley over Thanksgiving break. There were as many Griswold type gaffes as there were outstanding moments on that trip.
My Dad isn’t the most patient of travelers, and teenage girls aren’t known for traveling light. At one point the four of us were separated, jet lagged on three different metro cars on the way to our hotel. We eventually all made it in one piece, exhausted, angry and overburdened by our stuffed suitcases ill suited for the myriad stairs and cobblestones of Paris. My father was enjoying his second glass of wine in the lobby bar as if nothing was amiss by the time my sisters and I huffed in.
There was Thanksgiving dinner at Le Jules Verne, where I learned that turkey is highly over rated on that most American of holidays.
There was the car wreck in a torrential downpour set against the splendor of a brooding Chambord, beautiful and desolate in the slanted rain and fading light.
And there was my wine epiphany, in a wine cave somewhere in the Loire.
I don’t remember it being a planned stop, but pretty much everyone was ready to get out of the rental when we saw a sign advertising “Wine Tasting” on the side of the road.
It was cool and damp in the small, dimly lit cave. As the host graciously poured us all a sample of chardonnay he described the wine, “pomme, poire…” trademarks of great Loire chardonnay, but it was the pear that jumped out to me. I had no idea up until that moment that Chardonnay could taste of anything other than vanilla, buttered popcorn and oak. But PEAR?! It was revolutionary, and I started my love affair with old world wine and French chardonnay then and there.
My dad bought a full case of the wine and each evening before dinner we would all gather to enjoy a glass. I’m not sure how much ended up making it back home, but that no name wine changed the game for me.
I called my Dad to see if he could remember anything else and at first he didn’t recall the wine at all. Jules Verne, yes….the car wreck at Chambord, yes. As I described the wine it clicked. “Yes, I do remember buying a case of wine somewhere. It was definitely chardonnay, but I don’t remember anything about pear?”.
What wine changed the game for you?
I’m currently at my third Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, which will be followed by a few days in Napa and Sonoma. The past several months have been full of wine related travel, and I’ve whittled down my top 5 travel essentials for looking and feeling fresh and luxurious on the go- whether you’re sipping and swirling in Champagne or California!
Darphin Kiwi Mask
This keeps travel weary skin refreshed and dewy and smells great! It’s perfect for reviving jet lagged skin after a long day of travel. I also love that this skin care line doesn’t include harmful ingredients like parabens.
Downey Wrinkle Release Spray
Not all hotel rooms abroad have irons, so this spray becomes essential to keeping from looking rumpled! It can also refresh clothes that have been in a stuffy suitcase for too long.
Not only can they serve as crucial layering pieces on chilly planes or wine caves, these versatile accessories can change up the look of a limited wardrobe in a flash!
Nothing is worse than getting sick on vacation. I use this generic CVS brand to clean up grimy airplane seats, hotels, and before eating. I like these in particular because they have moisturizing aloe, smell neutral, and there’s no sticky residue. The individual packets are particularly convenient.
Cuyana Leather Goods
Though I use these at home, they’re particularly great for travel. The wallet easily fits a passport, lipgloss and multiple currencies. The toiletry bags are great for corralling makeup and sundries in style. Find them here.
What are your travel must haves? What wine travel is next on the docket for you?!
Looking to celebrate Bastille Day in style? It’s one of my favorite excuses (like I need one!) to indulge in some of my favorite French delicacies. Tomorrow is the 227th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, so don your best red, white & bleu and raise a glass of champagne!
I’ll be celebrating at Michel Richard’s Central, which is featuring a special 3 course menu of french bistro faves for just $55. They will also be featuring specialty cocktail, wine and beer as well as live entertainment from the Blue Room Jazz Band!
If you prefer to celebrate with a special glass of vin Eno Wine Bar is offering a Bastille Day flight and 30% off all bottles of French wines.
For live French music, check out Café du Parc or Sofitel (register here!)
And for an all day celebration, complete with mimes, check out Le Diplomat, which will also be offering specialty cocktails and pastries throughout the day.
To celebrate at home, check out Weygandt Wines‘, superb collection of French wines. They’re offering 20% off French bottles!
How will you be celebrating Bastille Day?
Bang for Your Buck, Bon Vivant, Bubbly, Entertaining, Event Planning, Holidays, Porch wine, Rosé, Seasonal Sips, Wine Recommendations, Wine Reviews, Wine Shops, Wine Tasting
The storm clouds in DC have finally given us a break and many people are planning outdoor entertaining for Memorial Day Weekend. What you may not know is that today is also #LanguedocDay.
Wine “days” seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but what I love about this particular one is that it breaks people out of wine ruts and raises awareness about an unsung region in the Southwest of France that offers incredible quality at affordable prices.
When Wines of Languedoc approached me about reviewing some of their wines, I was excited- mainly because I happen to love them, but also because they were focused on quality, with only AOP (Appelation d’origine contrôlée) designated wines. Though the region is often known for its bulk wine production, only 10% of wine from the region receives AOP designation, meaning stricter sourcing and production guidelines, but also higher quality wines.
It also gave me an opportunity to invite some friends over to chime in with their own opinions! We took advantage of a gorgeous DC day and threw a garden party.
Wines from the Languedoc lend themselves exceptionally well to entertaining. They’re accessible wines in both flavor profile and price- 2 things that make them prime candidates for any party wine!
The bar was set up for guests to easily serve themselves and sample all of the wines. Sparkling water and a carafe of cucumber lemon water kept guests hydrated!
On the menu:
- Homemade pimento cheese with ritz crackers- a must for any southern garden party!
- Crudité platter with hummus
- Orzo pasta salad
- Fruit platter
- Assorted olives, nuts, charcuterie and artisanal cheeses
- To hydrate: I like to serve cucumber lemon water and sparkling water.
- The bugs: These pretty citronella candles give off a gorgeous glow while keeping the bugs at bay.
These citronella candles not only give off a gorgeous glow, they keep pesky bugs at bay!
All of these, with the exception of the Crémant, are available at Weygandt Wines
. They’ve been kind enough to offer readers 15% off if you mention this post! Stop by to stock up for any weekend entertaining you might be planning.
Montfin Corbieres $13.99
This wine offers lovely red fruit with some earthy undertones. I noticed plum, red pepper and leather notes with medium tannin and acidity.
Montfin Rosé $13.99
This easy going rosé was a crowd favorite on such a gorgeous day! Dry, with notes of white peach and raspberrry.
Arbalète Coquelicots $17.99
This wine showed best after it cooled off a bit. Red fruit, a hint of baking spice and lovely earthy qualities.
Picpoul de Pinet $11.99
Crisp and light with notes of apple, pear and citrus. This is a warm weather no brainer!
Saint-Hilaire Crémant de Limoux $15
This crémant was both festive and accessible at a fraction of the cost of champagne! Crisp with notes of pear and soft floral notes.
Have you tried Languedoc wines? If not, this weekend is a great opportunity to do so. To learn even more check out L’Aventure Languedoc, a celebration of Languedoc AOP wines throughout June, coming to Seattle and Washington DC. Click here for more information!