I am on a month long trip through Europe tasting, eating and drinking outstanding wines, meeting incredible people in stunning places. And so I thought it only appropriate to share some of my tried and true travel tips for getting the most out of your next vacation!
The best laid plans…Things often go awry no matter how carefully a trip is planned. We have so little control over things like weather, travel delays, overbooked flights, etc. Go in knowing this with a few tools at your disposal.
Be nice to customer service. Anyone in the service industry likely deals with disgruntled, tired, rude customers every.single.day. However, they often have discretion to accommodate or even upgrade a few customers if at all possible. Remember the old adage: “honey catches more flies than vinegar!”
Learn to say a few key phrases. No matter where I’m traveling, I always learn to say hello, please, thank you, excuse me and cheers! It’s amazing how little effort these 5 words take to learn in even the most difficult languages, but I view it as an issue of cultural politeness. Often, it is rewarded with a more authentic travel experience, tips from locals, a better table, or even a complimentary glass of wine.
Talk to locals. While it’s great to have a travel plan, avoid hitting too many tourist traps by seeking out local advice. This can be as easy as recruiting the hive mind on social media or chatting up a bartender or barista during off peak hours.
Go with the flow. If you find yourself overtired, give yourself a break. If you and your travel companions aren’t seeing eye to eye, give each other a break! Remember that your cup of tea (or in my case today: Madeira!) might not be someone else’s.
Have a plan, but don’t forget to build in some down time. If you spend your entire vacation checking things off a list, you’re far less likely to enjoy your trip. Some of my favorite travel memories have taken place during the half day that I’ve blocked off with nothing scheduled. Talk to other travelers to see what they’ve enjoyed most (or found underwhelming!). Even if this time is merely spent people watching in a cafe or browsing a market, this time often results in restorative and exciting trip memories!
Embrace the local culture. Try the local specialty. Listen to some local music. Respect cultural etiquette. Your trip will be greatly enriched by these authentic touches.
I always end my blog posts with “Cheers,” and so I thought it only appropriate to share this anecdote from Mallorca.
As round after round of wine was served, we clinked glasses and toasted to the island, the nearly lost boat from an excursion earlier that day, to our hosts, really to anything on what had turned into a magical evening.
“But do you know why we clink glasses?” asked one of my dining companions?
If you research this question on the internet you’ll likely come across various theories relating to scaring off spirits, or even more nefarious Game of Thrones-esque theories- to ensure the wine wasn’t poisoned!
Bennesár, once again, came through with a simple, yet profound, answer.
“Wine is to be experienced with all five senses: We can see, smell, taste, even feel the wine on our tongues, but this is so we might hear it.”
Whatever the reason, this is the one I like best, and so I’m stickin’ to it!
As I depart for my 2nd Wine Bloggers Conference, I’m sure there will be many occasions to toast, and his words will surely be echoing in my ears.
A few quick tips for offering a toast:
- Always meet everyone in the eye! It is considered quite rude in many cultures not to do so.
- It is considered bad luck to drink water during a toast, although it’s perfectly acceptable to raise your glass.
- When a toast is offered in your honor, be sure to raise your glass, but it is not proper etiquette to drink to yourself!
- Sincerity is key, but so is brevity! Keep it short and witty, and be sure to end on a positive note, no matter the occasion.
And so to all of my readers, my incredible hosts in Mallorca, and my wine friends I’ll be seeing in a few short hours:
I recently returned from an outstanding trip to Spain, and while I enjoyed an amazing array of food and wine adventures, one dinner in particular stood out.
I initially opted to visit Mallorca because I fell in love with a wine from the island, but I had no idea that my quest to see the winery in person would lead me to experience the island in such a unique manner.
We were eating at the Michelin starred Cuina De la Terra in Capdepera with our hosts, family friends, and the venerated Mallorcan artist Joan Bennàssar, who has written extensively about local wine. While discussing wine, art, culture, and island history, Bennàssar made a comment in passing that stuck with me.
He swept his hand towards the wheat swaying in the breeze nearby,
“This, we turn to bread.” “Olives, oil,” he gestured to the green tinged oil in the hand blown glass, “and grapes, into wine. And this. This is what makes us civilized.”
It was one of those moments where time stood still for me.
Mallorca is a place that is intrinsically connected to the land. Its inhabitants are fiercely protective and proud of its unique heritage, which gets harder and harder to preserve in the face of overwhelming tourism. The Medieval castle of Capdepera, one of the last villages on the island unspoiled by tourism, was uplit behind me and I was enjoying an outstanding meal with friends I haven’t seen in over a decade, outstanding hosts, and one of the great artists of our time.
But really, it’s the simple things that make us civilized.
Autographing his book, “The Wine I Drink Tastes of the Sea”
With Bennàsar in front of one of his paintings at Cuina De la Terra
We lingered at the table for 5 hours over far too many bottles of wine, and then took a tour of Bennàssar’s works on the property. In this age of smart phones, concrete jungles, and the importance of being busy it was truly a night to remember.
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Planning a wine tasting trip Charlottesville, Virginia can be a daunting task- there are a number of outstanding wineries and picking just a few is no easy feat!
On my most recent trip with a group of friends, I took my cue from the most recent #VAwinechat, hosted by Frank Morgan of Drinkwhatulike.com at Early Mountain Vineyards. After tasting a selection of their wines I decided I needed to visit in person. Although the winery is a bit of a drive from many of the other Monticello AVA wineries, but the bucolic setting and behind the scenes tour sealed the deal! Other than their own outstanding wines, Early Mountain has one of the loveliest tasting rooms in all of Virginia and serves an Ambassador for other Virginia Wineries with a program called “Best of Virginia.”
The General Manager was kind enough to give my group an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the production facility, where we enjoyed tasting through Thibaut Janison’s bubbly, as well as Early Mountain’s own outstanding rosé. With notes of strawberry, watermelon, white peach and white pepper, the easy drinking rosé cut right through the muggy weather as we made our way through the tank and barrel room.
While Early Mountain is not situated in the main Monticello wine cluster, it’s well worth a visit just to take in the outstanding facility, views and enjoy some of the best wines from all over the state, which they have thoughtfully organized into flights. It’s a great way to experience wines that aren’t so readily available, such as Ankida Ridge’s Pinot Noir. I walked away with several bottles of the Early Mountain rosé, only to regret not purchasing a full case once back in DC.
After our tour at Early Mountain we made our way to the Library room at nearby Barboursville. If you’re looking for quiet amidst the chaos, this is your best bet! Down a hallway and through the Octogan Barrel room, one enters a key code to the library, an appointment only retreat for winelovers that offers patrons exclusive customer service along wine tastings and glasses of wine from the reserve list. There is also a tempting menu of cheese and charcuterie, which are perfect pairings for the fully customized wine tasting. Guests are given wide range to select either a tasting of 6 wines for $20, tasting pours or full glasses of some of the winery’s more exclusive offerings.
I sampled through an outstanding vertical of their acclaimed “Octagon”, mixing and matching the traditional tasting with an additional pour of 2008.
While checking out the terrace overlooking the grapevines, we met grape grower, Fernando Franco, who has been at Barboursville for 16 years. He spoke of the wine like a proud parent speaks of children, graciously offering tastes of the Nebbiolo ’07 as we chatted.
After lingering and sampling for a few hours, we made our way back to town to enjoy the always reliable gastropub, “The Local”. On your way out of town, don’t forget to stop for a sack of Bodo’s Bagels and Raising Cane’s fried chicken!
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After spending an amazing summer studying in Greece and returning there for travel over the years, I’ve developed quite an affinity for Greek wines. The food and wine are such a tremendous part of the rich culture. I adore cooking and serving Greek food and wine for clients and friends alike!
Many are skeptics, having had a bad bout with the notorious pine resin-y retsina, but most leave converts.
I was so pleased to be invited to a blind tasting recently by two Greek brothers who run a wine import and distribution business here in DC. We blind tasted 22 Xinomavros and enjoyed a generous spread of authentic Greek food at Mourayo in DuPont Circle.
Jason and Nasos Papanikolao. “You captured us perfectly! He is always out front and I am always in the background drinking wine!” – Jason
The hard to pronounce varietal is an oft over-looked, but a delicious and bold red wine perfect for pairing with lamb and summertime grilling season! It has deep, dark fruit flavor profiles and a nice earthy balance. This wine is often best decanted before service. If you like big, tannic, full bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, give this Greek stand out a try for a fraction of the cost!
One of my favorite things about Greek wine- and Xinomavro in particular- is the outstanding value. Below is one of my favorite wines for the money. It showed well at the tasting against pricier bottles, but is delicious at around $20/bottle! For a big, bold wine to pair with red meats, that’s a steal!
This bottle is a go to when enjoying lamb and delicious homemade tzaziki.
Do you ever enjoy Greek Wines?