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Archive for the ‘Cellar Doors’ Category

I have just returned from a whirlwind 3 weeks abroad: 1 week in Burgundy, 1 week in Fontainebleau and 4 days in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem. I rode a bike through Premier Cru vines in Pommard, ate grapes off the recently harvested vines in Volnay and celebrated my birthday in a gorgeous restaurant in Puligny filled with my Aussie friends and run by a Burgundian chef and his Belgian wife. I graduated from my marketing certification program at INSEAD and celebrated with 40 new friends and colleagues, leaving campus with a branded French beret to boot.
I touched the stone slab that Jesus Christ was prepared for burial, saw the empty tomb where He was buried and walked in His footsteps through Jerusalem. I prayed at the Wailing Wall and watched a class of Israeli Army graduates celebrate with their families. I dove in to Israeli wine, trying many stunning varieties, and experienced the exquisite delight of Israeli hummus. I floated in the Dead Sea, dunked my head (don’t do it…) in the mineral baths and rocked it out with 80 of my colleagues from across Europe at a nightclub in Tel Aviv. I arrived back in London yesterday, went in to the office to say goodbye to a lovely colleague who is shortly getting on a plane to move to Sydney. I am taking over his responsibilities for the UK market and took this last opportunity to glean all I could from his experience – while passing on my favourite things for him to go, see, do in Sydney (and living vicariously through him). Coming back to my flat in London last night was a surreal experience. I feel a bit lost and deflated yet full of energy. London is colder and more gray than when I left but the trees are changing colours and my flat is taking on a cosy and comfortable feel. I am happy to be back but have a sense of anxiety about what’s next, perhaps because of the crazy sequence of experiences that I have just come away from. I suppose the best thing to do is what’s most natural to me: just dive in, roll with the punches and figure it out as I go…

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My two lovely friends got married last Monday in London with 20 of their closest friends from around the world looking on. Our troupe was then shuttled into cabs, whisked away to the Champagne bar at St Pancras station and herded into Coach 15 on the Eurostar bound for Paris. After a quick transfer to the regional station in Paris, we were on our way to Dijon. Hop, skip and a 40 minute drive from Dijon, we entered our home for the next week: Chateau du Tailly, a gorgeous 18th century block of three buildings (all of which could have been individual houses)…

So many stories, such a wonderful week. Ultimately, it was about two people: Joel and Marc whose love brought all of us together for this incredible experience. We wined and dined our way through an awe-inspiring week throughout Puligny, Chassagne, Beaune, Mersault and many more. More updates to follow but will leave you with this for now.

  

The main Chateau and my two lovely friends, Joel and Marc, who hosted us during the week:

My home for the week:

        

The winemaker at Chateau Lahaye allowing me to ‘break through the must’ on their newest harvest.

  

Cheers!

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I’m just returning from 6 lovely days on the beautiful island of Santorini. For those of you that have been before, we stayed in Pyrgos which is away from the major tourist areas of Fira and Ia. Major bonus was that, without planning it, we ended up right in the middle of fields of vines! Not hard to do given just how much of the island is covered with these little bush trained vines.

We stayed at a gorgeous place with only 10 or so rooms (more like villas really) called Carpe Diem. We had our own private terrace overlooking the island and the vineyards.  I had found it through the travel site VoyagePrive.com which offers discounts at luxury travel sites (likeliving social for travel) and thus got a few things thrown in for free like a bottle of wine in our room. Every morning we had a ridiculously amazing breakfast brought to our room. Seriously – it was hard to beat. Greek yogurt & honey, Greek pie (my favorite new dish – feta cheese, egg & milk baked in a filo dough bottom crust. Yes, we did ask for the recipe…and yes I am turning into my mother), fresh Greek cheeses, fresh fruit, croissants & fresh bread, eggs, bacon, etc. Just thinking about it is making me gain more weight…

Positives:
-Breakfast as I have already belabored above
-Topless sunbathing is fantastic and having seclusion is even better
-Views of the island from your terrace with the ocean on both sides is just brilliant – you feel so small and peaceful
-Free room service rocks. You still have to pay for what they bring you but the service itself was free. Brilliant.

Negatives:
-Crying babies have no place in a small boutique hotel. I know I am being incredibly lame but seriously – why would you bring a very small baby to a hotel catered completely to adults? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear my sister telling me to be fair and that people with babies need to go on holiday too but really, at least pick a hotel that is set up to accommodate
-People peering onto your terrace being nosy deserve the eyeful they get – particularly if they don’t want it
-As we were away from the main areas and there are very few sidewalks on the roads, we had to get cabs everywhere which added an unexpected cost. Luckily the prices are standard on the island (even though they are sky high) so there wasn’t any negotiation.

Now on to the WINES!
While we were on the island, we wandered around the major areas and hit up two wineries: Hatzidakis and Sigalas. In general, the white wine and much of the red on the island is extremely high in acid. If not careful, this can completely overpower the fruit. We tasted some crackers where the winemakers were able to make refreshingly acidic, fruity and balanced wines.

The Hatzidakis winery was a trip – a truly authentic experience of a winemaker, passionate about his wine and not about presentation. We walked from our hotel in search of this winery, only to find a run down trailer sitting on a small field of vines with what looked like a lot of old, disused farm equipment. Upon closer inspection we discovered the grape press and knew that this was indeed a winery. After milling around for a while trying to knock on doors in the obviously abandoned trailer, a car pulled up. We were greeted by a man who spoke little English (and we embarrassingly knew nothing in Greek so muddled through a series of hand gestures to indicate we wanted to try his wines). After a bit of confusion he obliged by handing us two stained glasses and escorting us through the farm door, down a dank dark cellar and through another door into the storage room. The pictures show the story better than my words – but at this stage I was pretty excited. We were able to try three of his wines straight from the barrels. The main grape on the island is Assyrtiko so I was not surprised that this was his main production. However, he did have an awesome 100% Aidani (generally used for blending with Assyrtiko) that I’ve given notes on below – by far the best wine I tried on the island. We walked away carrying bottles of his wine with big smiles on our faces.

                             

The most elegant, more-ish wine I tried:
Aidani 2011, Hatzidakis Winery in Pyrgos, €14 at cellar door
Generous stone fruit of peaches with nicely blended lemon, medium body and impressive finish. Acidity is ridiculously high but this was a rare example of a wine balancing strong fruit with the acid so that is wasn’t completely overpowered. Aged in stainless steel vats down in the dank musty cellar of this vineyard – that didn’t really feel like a safe place for two young women to walk into – but boy was it worth it!!

The second winery was Sigalas, a more established and albeit more elegantly presented winery. It was set up for the tourists and catered to the bus-style crowd. That said, we arrived when there were no other tasters around (yes, it was first thing in the morning – just before noon – and yes, we are ‘early risers’ when it comes to wine) and got a prime seat outside in the Santorini sun overlooking the vines and the sea view. The vineyard was just outside of IA, the main tourist area, on a gently sloping field benefiting from the sea air and much gentler winds than the vineyards in Pyrgos. The wines here were charged by the taste but we came on the lucky Sunday (yes, Sunday) where the tastes were free and all bottles 20% off. While I enjoyed the wines, it was a different experience and I ended up only taking home a bottle of the Vin Santo – a wine famous and exclusive to Santorini made of sun-dried white grapes. Overall another fun experience.

Also, I wanted to share one red wine I bought at the supermarket and drank at our hotel on the terrace. It was a yummy example of a nicely finished wine. Many of the reds were a bit off – though we found that when you just ordered the “house wine” by the litre (yes. I know.) it was often very nice and served lightly chilled. Given the heat, this was a welcome thing.

And so now I am back in London. Sun-smacked and with a few extra pounds (feta really does instantly attach itself to your body – proven). I am now officially on a detox, walking to work every day and eating healthy whole grain foods with no bread or cheese… at least until I head to Paris on Sunday…

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Its time for spring holidays! An absolutely wonderful excuse to leave the office and the city for a few days of sun, sand and cocktails. Luckily, my chosen destination of Santorini Greece has it all: Sun (26 – 27 C for the entire time I’ll be there), Sand (yes, though we’ll be on a cliff so potentially I won’t see much of the stuff – that’s OK though as it always gets stuck in the most uncomfortable places), Cocktails (yep! and no, I am no longer 23 but I will likely still be trying out the local Ouzo…) and to top it all off – they have wineries! Read a bit more about Santorini wines here.

If you have suggestions on what to try while I’m there, let me know! Otherwise, hang tight for an update from me when I get back next week. Bring on the sun!

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I did something not-so-common last weekend. I spent a very pleasant Friday, Saturday and Sunday getting to know a wine estate in the south of England. Just 50 minutes outside of London, I took a train on a dreary Friday evening in the hopes of escaping the craziness of London and embracing the calm, quiet, wine-filled village of Bolney.

Now, I will preface with the note that I really really really needed a break. To be honest, I would do better to take a week out ASAP. But given demands of work and life, I had to settle for a weekend…I’m sure this is falling on deaf ears as many of you have just as busy lives, if not more so. Alas, I am horrifically self focused when it comes to energy levels and pretty much always crave some relaxation time. But enough about me – let’s get on to the wine….

I decided on and planned this trip approximately 48 hours before arriving in Bolney (see above) so was pleased to have found a nice place to stay (run by a friendly and hospitable couple) and was able to reserve a spot on the vineyard tour at Bolney estate for Saturday afternoon. After an expensive cab ride (they always gouge you when you don’t know where you’re going…I found out later this trip cost me 2x as much as it should have…) I arrived at a cute cottage style house and was greeted by Beverly at her home, Broxmead Paddock. She showed me to the ground floor room. Best thing? I had asked her to place a bottle of the local red wine in my room on my arrival so I was able to immediately drop my stuff and put my feet up. The wine itself? Nothing to write home about. It was more the experience of it rather than the actual quality. It was a bit harsh, slightly unbalanced with a very strong taste of unripe cherries (made from Dornfelder and Rondo grapes). After a few sips however, it goes down just fine…

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I went to the local pub for dinner (Beverly and her husband Brian dropped me off on their way to the theatre – so cute!). Had a gorgeous Venison dish with some really tasty Chilean Merlot. The pub itself had a relatively lively crowd for early on a Friday evening with a roaring fire and very warm feel. I didn’t want to leave but alas, exhaustion took over and I made the 10 minute trek through the very dark road (Beverly had given me a torch (aka a flashlight) earlier so that I could find my way home).

On Saturday morning I awoke to a big breakfast of eggs benedict cooked to order by Brian (ridiculously good) and set off for a long walk around the local area. One thing that struck me beyond the beauty and quaintness of the village was that even though you are in the country, you can always hear the motorway. Its a low buzz in the background no matter how far away from it you feelyou are. I loved this town – but seriously – that motorway would drive me crazy. Anyway – I got lost (of course) and thankfully used my phone to find my way back to the house, tired and ready for a nap…and a cheeky glass of wine in preparation for my vineyard tour!

After a few hours of chill, Beverly drove me out to the vineyard and dropped me off (making sure I was armed with my torch for the 30 minute walk home). One note: I could tell that this tour is not a common thing for wine-lovers to go on. Know why? They price it out by couple. There was no single person pricing available. Result? Me, alone with 4 couples, all of whom received the tour as a gift. That said, the tour itself was brilliant. We started off with a glass of their house sparkling, Bolney Bubbles. Distinct elderflowers and a gorgeous mouthfeel. Really a highlight.

We toured through the vines, learned about how the estate has been managed and a bit about the winemaker, Sam. Our tour guide then took us step by step through the process of making the sparkling (and to a lesser extent, the still) wines. First up was the fermentation tanks and the oak barrels used for aging. We were also given a taste of the Rondo wine in its partially fermented state to see what it was like (don’t recommend it…). Next it was on to the room for riddling, disgorging and bottling – which was my personal fav. They stack all the bottles up in a time intensive and consequently expensive process of extracting the dead yeast from the sparkling wine. Eventually they remove the yeast by freezing it at the top of the bottle and taking it out. They quickly replace the lost liquid and cork the wine.

We rounded out the tour with a tasting back in the tasting room followed by a ploughmans dinner. The main standouts were the sparkling wines and I ended up going home with 6x Bolney Bubbly (£17.99 per bottle – bit pricey but it was amazin’). After being the only singleton and meeting most of my fellow tour-ers, a very nice couple from Reading offered to drop me at the Broxmead Paddock so that I didn’t have to walk home in the dark. People are so nice outside of London!

After an early to bed Saturday night and another of Brian’s spectacular breakfasts on Sunday morning, I had a local esthetician come to the house (as you do!). After a long and relaxing facial & pedicure, I wandered down to the local pub for a cup of soup and another glass of that yummy Chilean merlot. I then made my way to the train station after hugs with Beverly and promises of returning soon. 50 minutes later I was dumped back into the center of London and immediately started planning my next wine holiday….

Spain? France? Perhaps somewhere a bit further afield like South Africa? Decisions decisions.

 

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Hold onto your glasses…Alaska airlines taunted me this morning by sending a great wine related deal through my inbox.
I a) live in Europe and thus have no ability to take advantage of this offer and b) don’t really like Alaska airlines anymore…even their 1st class feels like cattle class these days. But discounts on flights to Sonoma and Walla Walla from Seattle with discounts on hotels, free tasting tours and the ability to lug your case of wine home – checked in for free? That’s kind of exciting…
Can they get someone in Europe to pick up this trend? Please??

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We had a truly lovely trip to Leavenworth, WA over the holidays. If you have never been and you live in Seattle or nearby – go. It is a cute little German themed (ahem, yes it is a ‘themed’ town, aimed to attract tourists and not a whole lot else) in the mountains near Stevens Pass ski resort (where my dad was a ski instructor for most of his life and a pretty fun, if expensive, place to hit the slopes!). Over the years they have become known for having a whole lot of tasting rooms that cater to people who – well, who like to drink. Some of them offer glasses of their wines and/or tasting platters if you find something you like. Basically, the idea is to make a day of it – We started at the top of the street (bc really, that is what Leavenworth is – one long street) and walked our way slowly down to end before stumbling home. Many of the shops now charge for tastings – which is relatively new. Its only $2 – $5USD pp and many of them will wave the fee if you buy a bottle. What I was surprised and a bit put off by is many of them only wave the fee for your whole party if you buy a bottle of wine per person (i.e. if you have 6 people tasting, as a group you need to buy 6 bottles of wine at that winery). Also, the wines aren’t cheap – across the board they were $10 – $50+ and the quality was not in line with the price in many (if not most) cases. But alas, I did manage to find some real crackers – I’ve included them below.

Willow Crest Leavenworth Red
willowcrestwinery.com
Yummy, gooey, drinkable wine. I took this back to our rented condo the first night (even though all my fellow tasters weren’t impressed by it during the tasting). At $12 it was well below the other (overpriced) bottles on offer and it had a solid structure with a smooth taste. Needless to say after the first night we went back the next day and bought a half case!! A great wine to have on hand that will be sure to impress while not overwhelm. One note/caveat – they share a tasting room with Pasek cellars and unfortunately neither of them update their websites….and as I left all my bottles back in Seattle with my parents I am making a guess that this is Willow Crest and not Pasek (who specialise in fruit wines). Regardless, it doesn’t look like you can successfully buy this online so just give them a call directly at the tasting room: +1 (509) 548-5166

Bella Terrazza Reserve Reisling
http://www.bellaterrazzavineyards.com/
Wow – really tasty and unique reisling. Very interesting and well worth a taste – they left the skins on for quite a while and the result is a slightly heavier style of wine. Fruity and crisp but lacking a bit of the traditional acidity. I really fell in love with this wine – mainly because it was so weird! I bought half a case – probably a bit excessive but I wanted to see what would happen to it after a year. By the end of the christmas holiday I had finished 3 bottles (don’t judge) so I have another 3 waiting for me. I’m nervous about leaving them as I don’t think its a wine to age – but we’ll have to see! Another reason why I liked this wine/winery was the owner. When we visited he was the only one manning the tasting room. He was a young 40-something farmer, passionate about the grapes and pretty much nothing else. He HATED being couped up in the tasting room and was just dying to get back to his vineyard. One thing he mentioned was wanting to find a winemaker to take over the development of his grapes. I wish him the best of luck!

 

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