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?!
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.
Behind the Scenes, Bon Vivant, Bubbly, Drink Well, On the Road, Rosé, Seasonal Sips, Tried and Trues, Virginia Wine, Weekend Getaways, Wine Tasting, Winemakers, Wineries and Vineyards
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!