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A Tale Of Two Prague Wine Bars

August 6, 2019
Old Town, Prague

Some wines produced within the Czech Republic are daring and magnificent — tightrope walkers that beautifully balance finesse and control against staid comforts of plummy fruit and sandpaper tannins. Here is an invisible dance of gusto, prodded by the same bold mentality that sent Velvet Revolutionaries to chuck their ossified Soviet past. This landscape now shouts vibrant experimentation. Many other regions (including Bordeaux) could learn from sipping today’s best Czech juice.

Below are tales of two wine bars in Prague. One is local, low key and serves not unattractive bulk wine; the other focuses on quality for mainstream visitors.

Both are lively. One is even lovable.

One: The Sketchy Alley Wine Bar

There are two pathways to the Ma Skleničku Wine Bar within the city of Prague. Both are sketchy. One appears unlikely, because it passes through the inner bowels of a low key and dodgy looking arcade off Jindrišská street. The second option (which I took) leads to the end of an extremely sketchy alleyway. Deep inside this tunnel I was ready to pivot and hoof out for fear of getting mugged until I heard voices on the other side of a dumpster. They sounded joyous, not threatening. I tiptoed three steps forward, craned my neck and saw outdoor tables with wine glasses.

Ma Skleničku Wine Bar


There were tables in the alleyway, as well as couches in the arcade. There were more seats inside. I entered. Quelle surprise. Adjacent to this run-down alley way, beautifully dressed ladies and dapper men sipped and bantered.

I sat.

Eight spigots sprouted out of one wall. A young guy with black hair pulled on any of these to pour wine.

I ordered white.

‘Ryzlink?’ He asked. ‘We have two types. One is smooth. The other tough.’


I loved this place.

He suggested I start with smooth.

Simple, affordable, lively

He poured a generous pour. The label above the spigot classified the juice as Moravian Table Wine, made from the Ryzlink Vlašsky (Welschriesling ) grape. No year was listed.

The décor was sparse. There was no music. No wine list. No charming server. No olives or bread. Water was tap water.


The eight wine spigots in the background

Locals sat inside. Thursday evening youngsters chatters with animated politeness.

Wooden tables were small, likely hewn from a Czech equivalent of IKEA. The room lacked Aussie, Hanky, Brit or Chinese accents. A guy with purple hair tried picking up magnificent women by spouting ‘hakuna matatu’ in Swahili and insisting he buy them shots (they all declined). A drooling dog roamed across the floor.

Backstreet Prague. The real deal.

Locals gathering

The largest white wall was pasted with brown letters that spelt grape varieties—from Chardonnay to Ryzlink Rynsky. A 30-something year-old well-coiffed man in a pinstripe suite and bow-tie chatted with casually attired coworkers. A blonde and brunette at the adjacent table wore stunning dresses that could have belonged to royalty.

A woman in high heels and ripped jeans with a tattooed shoulder breezed inside. Her blouse slung over one shoulder and flaunted curves, which incentivized Mr. Purple Hair to hover close and offer her a shot. She summarily declined. (Offering shots in a wine bar did not seem to be a particularly intelligent pickup strategy.) He next eyed me and smiled and I looked away, wary of getting near any whiff of his vodka.

I next ordered ‘tough’ ryzlink. The bartender told how customers included people who lived on the block. Apparently, and thankfully.

Bulk wine; not bad either

I ordered a final glass: rosé. This ruby dark juice from southeastern Moravia was truly tough. I whiffed diesel, asparagus and vinegar aromas, then tasted oatcakes.

The inner bar included glimmers of style. Chess pieces filled empty drawers on a shelf. There were enough skirts, machismo, jewels, embroidered blouses and preppy shirts to fill a king’s party chamber during some moonlit Moravian feast. Pickup lines flew, but most well-dressed locals greeted their comrades with discourse and genuine enthusiasm.

There were no free snacks. A blackboard listed available dishes—from Kachní Paštika (duck paté) for about $2.80, to Klobásy (grilled sausages) for $5.

I stood and paid. Three sizable glasses cost less than six bucks. The experience was precious, but it was getting dark and time to eat. I exited and turned left, this time staying well clear of that alleyway.

The alley entry way. Sketch City.

Two: Quality Although Slightly Commercial.

I stopped into Vinograf Wine Bar Senovazne (there are two associated Vinografs in Prague), which is neither pretentious nor overtly commercial. The long bar made from hand hewn wood is attractive; locals hang out to read newspapers. Long necked Riesling magnums stood on adjacent low tables where customers sat in comfortable chairs chatting while work partners uncorked after-toil beverages.

A view of Prague and the River Vltava

An electronic tablet menu in multiple languages here breaks down wines by the glass, of which on the day I visited there were 10 whites, two rosés, nine reds, two sparkling wines and 18 choices from bottles sealed by Coravin. The young servers love wine, and are jazzed to share information and advice.

Vinograf wine list (fortunately there’s also a tablet in English)

I began with a 2017 white made from the Ryzlink Vlašsky (Welschriesling) grape from the ‘flowerline’ series, made by Mikrosvín Mikulov winery. Produced in the southeast Moravia wine region, this wine (no, it’s not Riesling) with a floral nose includes gritty, salty minerality in the mouth—a premium balanced beauty with cheekfuls of luscious acidity and crunchy minerals. The high latitude cool climate crispness includes warmth from summer sun kissed soils.

Rush hour Prague

The second wine was a 2018 Grüner Veltliner (known in Czech as Veltlínski zelené) from Ilias winery. Grüner Veltliner is one of the more widely planted white grapes in the country. This white from the Mikulovská sub-region of Moravia is more Kansas or Missouri than California—a full flush of juice to enjoy a barbecue with—sweet and easy. It is as open as a Pinot Blanc but includes a sliver of spice in the mouth.

Easy drinking white

There are several small wine bars in Prague. What they lack in variety of juice they make up for in abundance of local character. When in doubt, ask locals where to go. Some of the best Czech wines are scintillating: balanced, bold and beautifully crafted.

City scene at night

My latest Forbes pieces include Biondi Sant from Tuscany, Château Ausone from Bordeaux and far more about Czech wines.

And, yes, the new website is still being prepared!

Thanks for tuning in again.

Sizzling Summer Food And Wine Pairings

July 16, 2019

Wildly Winning Food and Wine Combos

As spring merged with summer the scents of fresh food and light wines have splattered across the days. From Majorca to Tuscany to Bordeaux — below are a few meals I was fortunate to sample during these past months, concocted by chefs of renown and paired with wines of solid repute.

These food and wine pairings provide contrasts that showcase Spanish Mediterranean shoreline foods matched with organic and orange wines; Tuscan mountain fare paired with traditional Italian classic vintages, and southern French foods matched with wines from Bordeaux winemakers.

Many of these menus illustrate food and wine pairing principles. These include:

  • Food and wine pairing can be more of an art form than an exact science. Don’t lose sleep over it, and have fun experimenting.
  • Consider dominance: a light wine may get lost if paired with too hearty a beef dish, and a hearty and aged red wine may overpower a light salad. Avoid having either a dish or a wine smother its pairing in terms of power, sweetness or acidity.
  • Sparkling wines are most versatile, because they include relatively high acidity and some sweetness (e.g. — champagne paired with cheese stuffed fried olives).
  • Pairings can be complementary or contrasting. For complementary — consider acidic sparkling wine paired with red snapper and pickled green tomatoes, or a heavy super-Tuscan red blend matched with grilled boar. For contrasting — consider sweet and fruity components of a Saint-Émilion red blend contrasting against Tandoori spices and pepper reduction over poached lobster.
  • Let the best wines take center stage. Remember, a good wine may take 20 years to be ready, while a good meal takes a few hours to cook. If you have a special wine, let it dominate (but not smother) the pairing to highlight its character. An example taken from below is when a 2010 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé is matched in heft, but not overshadowed by, a dish of pigeon and foie-gras.

The four selected dinners are below.

Setting One

The Dinner and Location

Palma de Majorca, on the rooftop of the seven-story home of Swedish entrepreneur Konrad Bergström, who just launched a new fleet of luxury electric boats for sale.

Rooftop of Konrad Bergström’s home in Palma de Majorca
Konrad Bergström enjoying life

The Chef

Chef Frida Ronge flew in from Stockholm to prepare our amazing dinner (she is Culinary Director of Tak, in Stockholm). Frida is an award winning chef and author of the cookbook Rå Som Sushi.

Renowned Chef Frida Ronge

The Theme

Cutting edge and healthy cuisine paired with organic, natural, orange and biodynamic wines selected by Stefan Lundgren, a Swedish art and wine dealer who lays low on the island now and then.

Healthy recipes

The Food & Wine Pairings

Hatt & Söner Champagne—Grand Cuvée Quattuor 2013 – 100% Chardonnay

Matched with …

Various pre-dinner snacks, including maki with green chilli, crab and avocado; green asparagus miso emulsion and salmon roe; grilled pulpo and squid ink, and cheese stuffed panko fried olives.

[Pairing Note: For this mixed bag of appetizers, champagne fits all]

Green asparagus miso emulsion, and more


2017 Sparkling white wine made from 100% Bacchus grapes from Germany—2naturkinder pet nat.

Matched with …

Red snapper sashimi in shrimp bouillon with beans and pickled green tomatoes

[Pairing Note: Light white acidic bubbly matches seafood and greens]

Red snapper sashimi in shrimp bouillon


2017 German white wine made of 100% Johanniter from Gustavshof in Rheinhessen

Matched with …

Zucchini and squid noodles with wasibi tahini, cress and horseradish


2017 L’Ephémère Blanc blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Roussanne from Julien Peyras of the Languedoc-Rousillon, France

Matched with …

Fermented salad with lemon, thyme and almond milk

Languedoc blend


2016 De Sol A Sol—Tinaja Airén made from 100% Airén grape, an orange wine from Esencia Rural, La Mancha, Toledo, Spain

Matched with …

Tataki grilled mackerel with gooseberries, yuzu koshu and salsa verde


2017 La sAoulée red wine from 100% Gamay grape, made by Nathalie Banes of Beaujolais, France

Matched with …

Chirashi sushi yellowfin tuna, tamago and furikake from Sweden

[Pairing Note: This light red Beaujolais will pair with poultry, as well as strong fish]

A daring Beaujolais wine


2011 Mas Zenitude blend of 75% Carignan and 25% Syrah from Languedoc-Rousillon in Fance

Matched with …

Granita with cherry and hibiscus syrup

Granita – match with red or orange wine


2018 Tout Terriblement sparkling white wine from 100% Gewurtztraminer from Phillipe Brand of Alsace, France

Matched with

Guanaja chocolate with olive oil and salt

& & &

Setting Two …

The Dinner and Location –

The two Michelin star Caino Restaurant is located in the small village of Montemerano in the hils of Tuscany, Italy. It is close to the 11th century castle of famed winemaker Jacopo Biondi Santi, who hosted our dinner and spent the evening telling grand tales of making wine, hunting wild boar and negotiating to buy Denzel Washington’s Humvee while he was visiting the U.S.

Caino Restaurant in the south of Tuscany
Map of Maremma region of southern Tuscany

The Chef –

Valeria Piccini is the two Michelin star chef serving up plates at Caino in the Tuscan hills. She is also the author of several gorgeous cookbooks.

One of Piccini’s many cookbooks

The Theme

Tuscany! Beef and grilled wild boar matched with Sangiovese based wines.

The Food & Wine Pairings –

2018 J Rosé from Castello di Montepò

Matched with  …

Maremmana beef carpaccio, peposo style

Beef carpaccio – Michelin star style


2015 Sassalloro Castello di Montepò, 100% Sangiovese

Matched with …

Vignarola’s Risotto with smoked lamb tartare

Beautiful, and delicious, risotto


2011 Schidione Castello di Montepò, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

Matched with …

Grilled wild boar

[Pairing Note: This hefty red meets and matches the taste of wild red meat]

Steaming hunks of grilled ‘cinghiale,’ or wild boar

& & &

Setting Three …

The Dinner and Location –

Rooftop of CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux city — Hosted by Château Cordillan-Bages

Rooftop in Bordeaux city

The Theme

This was 15th anniversary dinner for JM Cazes wines.

The Food & Wine Pairings

2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine des Sénéchaux

Matched with …

7-hour confit of Pauillac lamb with lemon and rosemary

[Pairing Note: The strong wine structure complements the lamb; the notes of herbs of provence within the wine match the rosemary]

CNDP – always a hearty winner for a serious main course


2013 Xisto from DOC Douro

Matched with …

Roquefort espuma, roasted hazelnut crumble and diced celery

‘Three grape varieties, two families, one terroir’


2016 Michel Lynch Prestige—Sauternes

Matched with …

Gariguette strawberries from Médoc with rhubarb ice cream and vanilla and lime cream

[Pairing Note: Make your sweet wine sweeter than dessert; but fruit can handle more acidity, so the wine can be slightly drier]

A visual dessert feast

& & &

Setting Four …

The Dinner and Location –

This Jurade Dinner was held in Saint Emilion at Château Soutard.

Twice a year, the robed members of the ancient ‘jurade’ order of Saint-Émilion, protectors and lovers of wine, meet to induct new members and enjoy a splendid meal matched with fabulous local wines.

Within Château Soutard

The Theme

This year’s Jurade meal at Château Soutard kicked off Vinexpo wine trade fair, held in the city of Bordeaux.

New Bordeaux Mayor Nicolas Florian (left) with Monsieur De Boüard of Château Angélus

The Food & Wine Pairings

Chilled Béarn corn-bean soup, smoked eel, pickled griolle mushrooms and sage

Matched with …

2016 L’Archange from vignobles Chatonnet, Saint-Émilion, and

2016 Château Lanbersac Cuvée Or (red) from Françoise et Philippe Lannoye of Puisseguin Saint-Émilion


Poached blue lobster with Tandoori spices, carrot mousse with citrus, Timut pepper reduction with fresh coriander

Matched with …

2011 Château Tour Baladoz, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, and

2010 Château Grand Corbin Manuel, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru

[Pairing Note: Because Saint-Émilion wines are red, pairing them with seafood can mean matching sweetness with spice, or acidity with cream, or both]

Poached blue lobster


Farm-raised pigeon and Wellington duck foie-gras with steam-boiled and browned turnips and peaty sauce

Matched with …

2010 Château Soutard Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, and

2009 Château Laroze Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé


Matured cheeses, followed by bay leaf panacotta, Menton lemon jelly, almond crumble and gariguette strawberries

Matched with …

2004 Château Troplong Mondot Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, and

1989 Clos Fourtet Saint-Émilion 1er Grand Cru Classé

[Pairing Note: These wines are not dry, but the medium dryness and fruit will match the sweetness and acidity of dessert]

& & &


My Recent Forbes posts include the following …

Tenuta Luce Roots Its Wine Reputation In The Hills Of Montalcino

How a Penniless Ten-Year Old Became A Shoemaker Of Dreams

Tuscany’s Il Boro Village blends Tradition and Luxury with Forward Thinking

Why the Collio of Friuli Delivers Crackling and Creamy Wines

France is Changing Key Wine Regulations

This Powerful Little Grape is About To Change the Wine Scene

Why Sicily’s Mount Etna is a Hot Spot For Wine Production

Wine Books

I’m now reading Wine Reads – A Literary Anthology of Wine Writing, edited by Jay McInerney. This compelling collection includes 27 excellent selections, including: the opening chapter of the book from which the Sideways movie was made; a history of events that led Robert Mondavi to create his own winery; a fictional piece about a wine tasting by Roald Dahl — author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

New Vino Voices Web Log –

Still under development! But, getting closer ..

Uncork The Vibrancy of Friuli Wines

June 18, 2019

Castello di Spessa, Friuli

Some Recent News –

Volcanic Mount Etna in Sicily

Keystone Contacts –

During recent wanderings in Sicily and Tuscany I met a pair of New Yorkers who also happen to have a house in Nerja, Spain, where my parents also once owned property. They write bestselling books about wine, which look enticing. It was good to meet these ‘world wine guys’ Mike and Jeff, who are also regular contributors to The Wine Enthusiast Magazine. I also met Syrah Queen Rupal Shankar—whose Instagram account is on fire with excellent photos of vino and geography. Together we spent time with Ryan O’Hara, who writes The Fermented Fruit blog, and is also a co-owner of a grand new restaurant in Washington D.C. And it’s always good to spend time with Sicilian wine friends Salvatore and Andrea …

Friulian vineyards

Friuli –

This post will be relatively short—but I wanted to mention the beautiful white wines of Friuli, in northeastern Italy.

Frico food in Friuli with a lively Pinot Grigio rosé wine

‘Friuli Venezia Giulia’ is one of 20 administrative regions within Italy. Those from Friulia, however, will adamantly tell you that they are not Venezians or Giulians. Friuli has its own language, a conglomeration of influences from Celtic, Lombards, Visigoths and others because the region was basically the geographical door mat for invaders during the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Ribolla Gialla grapes from Collio grow over acidic ‘ponca’ marine sandstone

Historical relationships between Friuli and the adjacent country of Slovenia were described to me as that of a ‘cat and dog.’ Because of successive waves of invaders, the Friulian people from the mountains learned to be reserved and somewhat secretive. Apparently even getting a neighbor to share a recipe can be difficult.

Sardine appetizer with Ribolla Gialla wine

Friulian white wines include those made from Ribolla Gialla grapes (which poet Boccaccio once listed as enticing gluttony among sinners). Other frequently grown white grapes include Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. I tasted a handful of wines made by Attems (owned by the Frescobaldi family) and although I’ll expand on those in a longer article for a publication, the impression was emphatically positive.

Fresh fruit and grappa after dinner

I even considered some Friulian Sauvignon Blanc tasted to be ‘Burgundian’ (even though that grape is little grown in Burgundy) because of its overall creaminess, quality and balance. Pinot Grigio from Friuli can include florals as light and distinct as those from wines made from Viognier grapes, while wines made from Ribolla Gialla—sometimes aged exclusively in acacia casks—can combine the creaminess of oatmeal in the mouth with the acidity of plump gooseberries. Delicious.

Winemaker Daniele Vuerich inspects acidic marine sandstone ‘Ponca’ soils within Friuli

Some Friulian vines grow over ‘ponca’ soils—marine marl and sandstone laid down some 50 million years ago when the terrain was below the ocean. These easily breakable soils can result in slopes disintegrating unless they are anchored with vegetation, such as apple trees. The soil’s high acidity combined with cool night temperatures contributes to mallic acidity of wines.

Clio Cicuto, a Friulian and Tuscan wine guide

Food in Friuli is also excellent. Whereas fish, pasta and rice were historically abundant in Venice and Trieste (a sea shore city in Giulia), the more mountainous Friuli region historically produced potatoes, cheese, barley and beans. Dishes here are complemented by meats, typically secured by locals who hunt wild boar, deer and pheasants. One winemaker I spoke with, Gianni Napolitano, told how it took him four years of taking courses and exams before he could be licensed to hunt. Such is the thinking in Friuli—that quality and capability in any endeavor—whether learning to hunt or to make wines— takes time and patience.

Winemaker Gianni Napolitano

Again, I shall write more about specific Friuli wines in another publication. I just wanted to highlight the beauty of the wines and food from this region.

Finally, a Big Thank You to Jill and Jim McCullouch of New Zealand, who visit Bordeaux every year, and en route through the UK always buy me copies of Decanter Magazine’s special Bordeaux summer issues! Much appreciated …

Thanks again for tuning in.





Socially Unbuttoning Bordeaux

May 21, 2019

This Vino Voices website/weblog is being redesigned by a professional (finally!)

It will soon be more compact and include a visual menu of previous posts.

Stay tuned.

Also, the Etalon Rouge wine website is also being redesigned, and is temporarily offline.

My recent Forbes pieces are here.

Forthcoming Forbes posts will include the story of a natural-wine loving Swedish entrepreneur who just launched a range of luxury electric boats, as well as notes about a vertical tasting of Ausone and Smith Haut Lafitte wines in Switzerland. There will be an article about the mutual influence of the French and Chinese in the wine world, and a list of five wineries (and their best wines) that are worth watching right now—including selections from the islands of Sicily and Majorca, as well as from the French Languedoc.

Château Soutard in Saint-Émilion, lit up during the annual ‘jurade’ dinner

When spring erupts in southwest France, so do social events. This post covers a few of the usual wine and food events here.

View of vines in the commune of Cars, Bordeaux

La Roche Chalais – where zero degrees longitude intersects the Dordogne River

ONE: Open Doors in Bourg.

This is an annual event in the nearby region (and town) of Bourg where wineries open their doors for two days to visitors. This year it was was renamed ‘Tous ô Chais’ (all cellars) instead of ‘Portes Ouverts’ (open doors).

The premise remains the same.

First, pick up a map listing participating wineries. Next, call friends to join you in visiting several wine châteaux for long tastings in a gorgeous rolling countryside.

Five of us spent an afternoon exploring, and met some local characters shown below.

Not surprisingly in France, the first winery we visited was closed for lunch. However, at the second winery (Château Lamothe) the owners let us unpack our own picnic at this massive indoor table, where we opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed an impromptu off the beaten track lunch of baguettes, cheeses, saucisson, tomatoes and chocolate. Parfait.

Exploration partners (from left): South Africans Martin and Jodi, and Chicagoans Melissa and Jody

Château Lamothe, whose owners graciously offered their banquet table for our picnic lunch

Owner Louis Meneuvrier (and son) of Croix-Davids

Château Sauman

Jean-Yves Béchet at biodynamic Château Fougas

Guard dog at Château Sauman

Château Sauman

Madame Lamothe with a 2018 barrel sample

The below list includes a selection of good quality wines scored for value using my proprietary Vino Value algorithm. In general, wine values in this region are excellent

Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Open Doors Bourg 2019
Winery Wine 100 Point Score Equivalent Range Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars Value Score
Château Lamothe 2016 Grand Réserve 92+ 8.10 € $9.07 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Lamothe 2015 Grand Réserve 92+ 8.30 € $9.30 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Fougas 2016 Organic 92+ 8.00 € $8.96 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Fougas 2016 Forces de Vies 92+ 19.00 € $21.28 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château La Croix-Davids 2016 La Croix-Davids 92+ 9.00 € $10.08 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Sauman 2018 Rosé 92+ 5.00 € $5.60 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Sauman 2017 MM Émotion 92+ 9.00 € $10.08 Excellent Value ♫♫

TWO: Dinners Asscociated With Primeurs Wine Tastings and VinExpo 2019 Trade Fair

The April ‘primeurs’ wine tastings and this year’s earlier than usual renowned VinoExpo trade fair in Bordeaux city also coincided with dinners throughout the region. Many were formal, with excellent wines and food. I was fortunate enough to attend a Lynch-Bages sponsored dinner in Bordeaux city, as well as the renowned ‘Jurade’ dinner (this year at Château Soutard) in Saint-Émilion. Château Angélus also hosted a rather amazing dinner/spectacle titled ‘Dinner Under The Stars.’

This dinner in Bordeaux city was hosted by wineries that included Lynch-Bages

Legendary wine producer J. M. Cazes at dinner with Blaye wine producer Les Kellen

Jurade dinner at Château Soutard in Saint-Émilion

New Bordeaux Mayor Nicolas Florian (left) with Monsieur De Boüard of Cht Angélus at Jurade dinner

Below is a quick video provided by Château Angélus in Saint-Émilion of their April ‘Dinner Under The Stars’ during ‘primeurs’ wine tasting week. This was was quite the exceptional event—where magnums of wine from past three decades were served.


THREE: Impromptu Social Events

Warmer weather brings everyone out and together. This year has included exceptionally longs spells of sunny days in February, March, April and May.

In our town of Blaye, new South African neighbors recently held a bubbles and cake gathering, to which our French winemaking friend brought several classic old vintages. This is part of the local culture. Wine, cheese, dinners, desserts and social events seep into many aspects of life here in the spring (as well, honestly, during all other seasons).

Friend Monsieur Marchand brought a few beauties to sample …

Neighbor Celia accepts a quick glass of Languedoc wine from Minervois while passing by

There was also that memorable recent hippie dinner in Blaye.

South African, Russian, French and semi-Italian hippies gather for summer love (and wine)

Neighbor Emilie insists on a selfie (photo courtesy E. Boudrais)

This brief post was just a visual whirlwind to demonstrate social spring highlights around Bordeaux.

Remember—this site will soon be redesigned.

Regardless, upcoming posts cover Majorca, Sicily and Tuscany—and will provide more details about their dynamically changing food and wine cultures.

Again, thanks for visiting this site.

La Palma skyline—Majorca island of Spain

11 Tips For Wine Travel

April 30, 2019

My latest Forbes pieces are here, and include wise words from 10 winemakers and winery owners, U.S. entrepreneurs launching canned South African wine, how a digital negociant helped change the U.S. wine world, and other pieces on Vinitaly, agriturismos, and the 2018 Bordeaux vintage.

Below are a few hints regarding wine related travel.

One: Seek Local Knowledge.

When you reach a new destination, ask a local sommelier which wines he or she recommends, or get input from a reputable winemaker whose style you enjoy. Try to find a contact involved in the wine world before you even arrive, although it’s best to do your homework in order to find one with a decent reputation. Also, that book you may have read about the wine region, which was published five years ago? Since then, winemakers may have adopted a new style, or have begun experimenting with unusual, or unique, grapes for that geography. To get a current handle on the wine vibe of any locale, word of mouth is valuable, but best if that comes from a proven source.

Two: Serial Winery Touring is Overrated .

Let’s say you visit Sonoma or Tuscany or the Loire Valley. You then make arrangements to visit three or four wineries on the same day. Or else you just begin driving from one winery to another. That’s a great way to see the countryside and to get a feel for regional wine styles (although in Europe, you will need to book most visits in advance rather than just driving up).

But after that first perusal, following the same pattern on successive days may be a mistake. First, you’ll only be sampling wines from one winery at a time, and if you hit a dud, you’ll be stuck with a range of poor wines awhile listening to stories of heritage and terroir and the same old ‘wine is made in the vineyard, not in the winery’ story. You’ll then motor onto another locale, and perhaps get the same talk while sipping mediocre vintages. After your initial day of physically visiting vineyards, it may be better to find a wine bar, or a restaurant, and have a local who truly knows the best of the region’s wines pour you several to taste. This is faster and requires less driving. True, vineyard visits are not about speed or efficiency, but life is too short to spend your travel time with vintners pouring mediocre or poor wares. Visiting wineries can be fun, but the novelty wears off rapidly after being toured past stainless steel tanks and barrel rooms five times in an afternoon.

Three: Don’t Swallow Wine Before Lunch.

Swirl, sip, spit, but wait until eating lunch before you begin  swallowing wine. Otherwise you’ll catch a buzz and be less able to appreciate wines you are drinking. If you drink on an empty stomach in the morning (and forget sipping water), you also risk getting a hammering afternoon headache.

Four: When Planning your Trip, Combine Wine with Other Activities and Interests.

For the wine region you visit, consider also food, sport, architecture, history and local literature. The town where I live in France has an annual marathon that passes wineries. Even those who don’t sip wines offered along the trail can enjoy the country by running next to vines. Or perhaps you want to enjoy a morning round of golf before visiting a winery. Or have a guide drive you and tell about the local history, whether related to Romans, monks, or covered wagon settlers. Also, consider buying a book about that region (or even its wines) before you visit. Variety is good for life, and placing your visit within a larger context will help you enjoy your travels even more.

Five: Select Aspects That You Want to Learn More About.

Listen and observe, then select one or two topics that interest you and learn more—whether by reading or asking questions. Whether it is carbonic maceration or the Carménère grape or aging wine in acacia barrels—identify a topic, and make the effort to learn more. This will keep your mind clicking as you travel, and will make aspects of your trip more memorable later.

Six: Respect Lesser Known Regions, Grapes and Producers.

Everyone seeks that ‘hidden jewel:’ that unknown winemaker producing astonishing juice which costs next to nothing. Truthfully—there are plenty out there. However, you’ll either have to taste a lot of mediocre juice first before finding them, or will need to be clued into their identify from locals with knowledge. Just because a château or domaine or tenuta or bodega has produced wine for three centuries and the owner’s offspring are on the cover of a famed wine magazine and their bottles cost north of $75 does not necessarily mean they are the best in town. There is no direct and unrelenting correlation between price and quality in the world of wine. If a guide tells you he or she only associates with the best of the best producers, be wary: the landscape of wine quality changes every year. Remember also that taste is personal. Following big names and famed brands soon turns boring; it is also evidence that you lack any sense of discerning personal taste.

Seven: Don’t Overthink Food Pairings.

There are no perfect food/wine pairings, so don’t regard these combinations as some type of differential equation you need to solve. Allow room for experimentation, and ask the waiter/sommelier/winemaker what they think. Bringing up the topic of food with winemakers often energizes them, and they will often recommend a local dish (have them write it down, with the correct spelling) and may also suggest local restaurants. Here are three keys to remember for wine pairings: simpler dishes are easier to pair with, pairings can be complimentary (e.g. goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc) or contrasting (e.g. salty oysters, sweet champagne), and ‘wine killers’ include vinegar (this includes balsamic), milk, eggs and earthy veggies (such as beetroot or artichoke). Again, don’t over think it: experiment.

Eight: Pack Appropriately.

In years past I traveled with a spiral notebook, tape recorder and 35 millimeter camera when visiting wineries. Today, an iPhone will take care of all that. It also allows you to take notes, interview locals and snap photos. Its GPS will also help you navigate to your next location, and the internet connection can forward pictures to friends instantly. The world has changed dramatically in the past decade.

If checking a bag in at the airport, I’ll pack a corkscrew. Imagine ending up in a countryside inn with a gifted bottle of Brunello di Montalcino and no corkscrew on the premises. That would be like finding refuge in an arctic cabin during a snowstorm that is laden with canned food, but without a can opener. As for clothing—high heels do not fare well in vineyards or up cobbled Italian alleys. Bring warm clothes if you want to get outside and see vineyards (which you should). I am constantly amazed at vineyard visitors who dress as though they were visiting a Prada store on the Champs Élysées or a garden party in Surrey. Remember—a vineyard is a farm.

Nine: Do Your Research (If You Are So Inclined), But Don’t Consider it Doctrine.

Just because five newspapers and two magazine articles in the last three years profiled a certain winery in Abruzzo (or Marlborough) as having the most dazzling wines imaginable does not negate the value of also putting other wineries on your itinerary for that region. Lesser known wineries often offer a more intimate and memorable experience. And even though Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (or Sauvignon Blanc) may be the dominant white grape in that region, that is actually all the more reason for you also to taste white wines made with the Pecorino (or Breidkecker) grape, just to highlight the contrast.

Ten: There’s More To Wine Country Than Wine.

Wine regions also sometimes include good local beers. Consider kicking off an evening (or afternoon) with a glass of suds before you start popping corks (or twisting screwcaps) to enjoy local grape juice. Remember, there are no rules when it comes to travel and wine.

Eleven: Respect Your Own Sense of Taste.

Finally, no matter what the critics or sommeliers say, you are the judge of which wines you appreciate and do not appreciate. If you are standing in an opulent tasting room with a bedazzling view of snow crusted distant peaks and romantic trimmed vines below while drinking from a Riedel glass and listening to quadraphonic classical music and the wine simply does not do it for you, that’s it. Try another. Or move elsewhere. Don’t let the environment hoodwink your mind into ignoring your taste buds. It’s your trip, your life, your experience. Trust your own taste, and don’t succumb to any groupthink.

Most importantly, Enjoy! Don’t take wine travel too seriously.



A Decade Of Springtimes …

April 16, 2019

Ten years ago (in March) I first arrived to visit Bordeaux city and countryside. In 2017 I wrote a post about that arrival, which included being in a bar where others were dancing on tables when police raided, blowing whistles, because the music was too loud. Several of us escaped out back and went to some woman’s apartment to continue the festivities. What an unusual way to become familiar with a city.

A few years ago, I moved here to live.

During the past four years I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Printemps des Vins de Blaye, a public gathering where, for the price of about $8, you can spend two days visiting the magnificent 17th century Citadelle of Blaye and sampling limitless wines from a hundred local producers.

This year we were graced with excellent sunny weather, and visitors formed a far more international and cosmopolitan gathering than ever before. There was live music (🎼), ample food booths, demonstrations of barrel making (and barrel racing) and plenty of tastings. Altogether, it was a convivial and stellar gathering.

I managed to taste and take notes on dozens of wines. The wines listed below are a few selected based on those that would ‘score,’ on a 100 point scale, between 91 and 96 points, and are also of either excellent or superlative quality in terms of price (as scored using my proprietary Vino Value Algorithm).

It’s a representative list, and there were many other winemakers I would have liked to have visited. All wines are red, unless where noted.

Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Printemps des Vins de Blaye April 2019
Winery Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars Value Score
Château La Cassagne Boutet 2015 Les Angelots 25.00 € $28.25 Good/Excellent Value ♫♫
Château La Cassagne Boutet 2018 Le Puits Rosé 5.00 € $5.65 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Magdeleine Bouhou 2015 MB Grand Vin 13.50 € $15.26 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Magdeleine Bouhou 2015 La Boha 8.50 € $9.61 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Puynard 2017 Bordeaux Rosé 6.00 € $6.78 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Puynard 2016 The Steps 10.00 € $11.30 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château du Vieux Puit 2017 French Rosé 6.50 € $7.35 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château La Rose Bellevue 2015 The Secret (100% Merlot) 20.00 € $22.60 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Florimond 2015 Réserve (red) 8.20 € $9.27 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Segonzac 2016 Héritage (red) 12.00 € $13.56 Excellent Value ♫♫
Chateau Bellevue 2016  Amorphae (red) 20.50 € $23.17 Good/Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Nodot 2015 Cuvée Prestige (red) 7.50 € $8.48 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Nodot 2016 Cuvée Tradition (red) 10.95 € $12.37 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Canteloup 2016 Château Canteloup (red) 6.20 € $7.01 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Les Graves la Valade 2015 Élevé en Fûts de Chène (red) $6.50 $7.35 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Gauthier 2015 Guathier (red) $8.00 $9.04 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Haut Bourcier 2016 Haut Bourcier (red) $7.50 $8.48 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Môndésir Gazin 2015 Blaye (Merlot / Malbec) $14.00 $15.82 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Camille Gaucheraud 2012 Merlot $6.00 $6.78 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château La Motte Cuvée la Motte (sparkling rosé) $7.00 $7.91 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Peymelon 2015 Peymelon (red) $8.50 $9.61 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Petit Boyer 2016 Vieilles Vignes $12.50 $14.13 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Bel-Air Royère 2015 L’Esprit $12.00 $13.56 Excellent Value ♫♫


My latest Forbes pieces are here, including winemakers from five countries to watch out for, Italian jewels, and some recommendations from Bordeaux primeurs.

Thanks for tuning in again.

French Alpine Wines Of Savoie

March 26, 2019

Savoie, pronounced Sav-WAH, is a wine producing region associated with the French Alps. The whites are notable, although you are likely not familiar with the white grapes of Jacquère or Gringet. The first is crisply acidic, somewhat like a Riesling meeting a Pinot Gris.

This region is where Celts and Romans lived, and was controlled by Italy until 1860. The Alps are gorgeous, the food and wine delicious and many towns include stone fortifications (including those constructed by military architect Vauban, in the town of Briançon) that are both commanding and attractive.

Serre-Chevalier ski resort, southern French Alps

Skiing here is excellent, and after-ski racelette with wine can be delicious.

Jacquère is the most prevalent Savoie grape, making up roughly half of vine production in this region that is splattered from below Lake Léman (think Geneva) all the way south to below the city of Chambéry.

Another widely planted white grape is Roussette de Savoie, also known locally as Altesse. Wine from this grape includes tastes of tropical fruit and honey and can often be aged for several years. Another white wine from Savoie is made from Chasselas, typical and abundant also in the Swiss Vallée region.

Old Town of Briançon

Reds include Gamay (think Beaujolais) and more recently planted Pinot Noir, although these do not generally match the quality of whites. Other reds are made from the grapes Mondeuse (dark colored and acidic; as a blending grape it helps red wines to age) and Persan (herbal, well-structured and rare).

Sunny morning on the slopes

The location of these Alps is in relative proximity to Burgundian and Beaujolais wine country, and also the Rhone valley. This provides a wider range of wines locally available, and towns frequented by visitors offer greater wine selections from such different regions (and countries).

Alpine vista from Briançon

The Alps run east to west and then southward—passing through Slovenia, Austria, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and France. Choose whichever country you like, but it is worthwhile visiting these young, jagged peaks for a dose of life that with differing regional cultures (and sports), but also for a taste of distinct local food and wines.

Plaisir Ambré Restaurant in Briançon

In the southern French Alps, dinner and drinks at the Grand Hotel (freshly renovated two years ago) in the town of Chantemerle are excellent, and the little restaurant named Plaisir Ambré in Briançon offers excellent food (and Savoie wine) at reasonable prices. Afterwards, stroll down the inclined main street to view a wildly refreshing vista of snow dusted peaks.

A rare gathering of renowned Alpine Entrepreneurs outside the Grand Hotel in Chantemerle

Whether in summer or winter, alone or with friends, travel here with an open mind, and a hunger to learn about slices of history (and living) far different from what you already know.


Lunch with Savoie wine

My latest Forbes pieces are here, and include articles about South African wine, about an alpinist Instagrammer, about a winemaking mother in the Malibu hills and also about a French winter sports organizer who decided to quit his job in order to be CEO. There is also a brief piece about running through Bordeaux Grand Cru vineyards.

In the coming weeks I’ll cover the general quality of 2018 Bordeaux ‘en primeur’ wines, and will include a second annual tasting of a range of excellent Swiss wines. There will also be a general post that covers wine from the island of Majorca.

Thank you again for tuning in!

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