Where to Eat and Drink in Oxford

Well, I have successfully eaten and drunk my way through Oxford, from coffee (and dessert!) at the oldest cafe in Oxford (except, apparently, the Queen’s Lane, which may or may not also be the oldest cafe in Oxford) to brunch at Bill’s, a pint at the Eagle and Child, and the Tesco wine selection.

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The Grand Cafe
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One coffee and a delicious pastry later…

The first day there, still jetlagged and seriously undercaffeinated, we stopped at the Grand Cafe in Oxford to treat ourselves to a fancy coffee, along with some dessert. They were out of the blackcurrent and violet cheesecake, which was our first choice, but our second choice was just as satisfying: the croquant Valrhona, an odd pastry with a crispy base under mousse covered in chocolate glaze. The chocolate, apparently from the French chocolatier Valrhona. Odd, but delicious!

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Brunching at Bill’s

On Sunday (after a night of Tesco wine, more on that later), we took ourselves to brunch at Bill’s, where I had the veggie breakfast: toast with eggs, tomatoes, hummus, avocado, and mushrooms. Cool atmosphere, with light wood tables, funky chandeliers, and urban touches. We were on the early side for brunch, but it started filling up fast soon after we arrived!

Sadly, I didn’t think to take any pictures of the Tesco wines that we bought, but we enjoyed a really nice rosé, a Spanish garnacha, a Rhone blend, and a white from the southwest of France. Don’t worry, we didn’t drink all of them, but we tried all of them. Tesco is interesting because it’s now the largest retailer of wine in the world, with a lot of buying power in the wine industry, and represents a huge amount of different wine brands. The wines on their shelf are mostly inexpensive (very inexpensive!), but good value, especially for someone on a student budget. There was, surprisingly, a great deal of white zin, which we carefully avoided. We recommend anything with grenache/garnacha for a budget Tesco wine run win.

If anyone’s interested in learning more about Tesco and the advantages/disadvantages to that kind of wine buying structure, The Wine Economist has some interesting things to say on it!

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And last, but not least, we had a pint at the Eagle and Child, where the Inklings met to talk about their writing and ideas! Of course we had to hunker down in one of the little nooks with a pint of ale and talk about our literary dreams. We also spent a lot of time talking about the difference between American and British slang, but at least we were still talking language!

Next up: arrival in Bordeaux, the open air markets, the first bottle of wine I bought, and how to do culture shock your third time around

Dinner in London Soho

Sitting at the bar at Bibimbap in Soho, drinking an unexpectedly delicious Korean root tea (ordered off the drinks menu at random), I’m glad I made it out of my hotel room. Bibimbap is named after the restaurant’s specialty, a traditional Korean dish, and I picked it out days ago after a recommendation from a friend, plus a few write-ups in “Where to eat alone in London” articles.


After my flight, with too little sleep and too much caffeine,  I didn’t think I was going to make it out of my hotel room, let alone the 45 minute walk across London to Bibimbap. But I wasn’t going to start off my year of adventure by wimping out on the very first one, so I changed out of my travel clothes and went out to find some food. And I’m so glad I did; the fresh air revived me after 9 hours of recycled plane air, and the food is excellent.


My meal is the dol sot bibimbap, rice topped with vegetables and an egg, served in a hot stone bowl. A welcome change from airplane food, that’s for sure. The restaurant is filling up quickly; I showed up promptly at 6, when they opened, and all the tables are already full, although there are still spots left at the bar.


Up next; a bus ride to Oxford, where I’ll be for a week, visiting a friend and pretending I’m at Hogwarts.

How to Apply to a French School

As you may have noticed, this blog has been on a very long hiatus as I’ve been figuring out where to go from here. And the answer has turned out to be…France!

In September, I will be headed back to Bordeaux for my third stay in France (after a study abroad in Paris and a year teaching English in Normandy), where I’ll be doing an MBA in wine marketing in the beautiful city (and wine destination!) of Bordeaux. The business school is INSEEC, and their Bordeaux campus offers a specific MBA in Wine Marketing. The program is two years, during which I’m hoping to learn a lot about French wines and wines from every region, travel as much as I can, and brush up on my French language skills.

Applying for a French school as an American is a process, and it helps to be very organized about it. The last two times I went to France, I was flying by the seat of my pants, getting on buses and hoping they were the right ones, learning as I went about French culture and etiquette. This time has been very different: checklists, schedules, paperwork, planning in advance.

If you’re thinking about going to school in France, here are the basic steps that I took to do it:

1. Before you apply directly to the French institution, you have to apply to CampusFrance, the branch of the French Embassy that facilitates international studies. Create a PASTEL account and start uploading all your documents: proof of previous studies, jobs, internships, language ability, etc.

2. Send a money order of $100 to CampusFrance for your application fee. This process has a lot of fees, and this is just the first. If people are interested, I’ll write a post on the cost of doing (and applying to!) a master’s program in France.

3. Once your money order has been received, you’ll get a CampusFrance representative to guide you through the process. I already had my application pretty much finished, but my rep was able to answer a few questions I had. Save both the receipt and the confirmation email. You’ll need these for the visa application.

4. Some French institutions are “connected”, and your CampusFrance application is your application to the university. Mine was “non-connected”, so I applied directly to the school, which meant another application form and essay questions.

5. I did a phone interview with my CampusFrance rep as well as a Skype interview with the business school.

6. If you get in, then the real fun begins! Send your acceptance letter to your CampusFrance rep, who will validate your acceptance in PASTEL and give you the go-ahead to apply to your visa! Save that email, too.

7. Time to start the visa application! For a French visa, you have to go in person to your nearest consulate, no sooner than 90 days, but at least 2-4 weeks before you leave. My closest consulate happens to be in San Francisco, so I will be making a whirlwind, one-night trip to SF this week. The consulate website will have a checklist of all the documents you’ll need for the visa application; bring them all, plus anything else that might seem useful.

8. Packing. My least favorite part, but I did a test run last week, and everything fits in a medium-sized suitcase, around 42 pounds, plus one box that I’ll have shipped!

This blog has been on my mind lately, and I’m hoping to revive it as a wine and travel blog. I started it as a way to focus my wine learning and my exploration of Walla Walla, and now it’s time for something new!


Photo by  www.travelbusy.com/gallery

Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re celebrating with a potato, leek, and goat cheese pizza, cranberry sauce, spiced squash, brussels sprouts, the 2013 Seven Hills Rosé and the 2012 ORB from RuloThankful for so many things, including our new-to-us cat, beautiful apartment, family and friends, and being able to work in such a fun and interesting industry. And, of course, the great wine!

What about you? What are you thankful for? What wine are you drinking today?

3 Tips for Blogging (and why it takes me so long sometimes)

Here we are again, in August, and I’ve promised myself I’d be posting more frequently this summer. Instead, I’ve been studying for the WSET Level 2, having the WSET cancelled on me last minute, out tasting wines, attending wine tastings, hosting wine tastings, working a lot, hanging out by the lake, seeing Julius Caesar with an all-female cast (awesome!), eating great food, making great food, starting to run again (up to 5 miles now!), visiting family and friends all over Washington state, and working on other writing projects. Whenever I think about starting back up with my blogging, I think of everything that goes into a blog post, and it feels like so much work, and then it turns into this vicious cycle. So, this is a post that has very little to do with wine and very much to do with what goes into making a blog post. 

1) Take great photos. I’m not great at taking photos, but I take my (inexpensive and not very fancy or impressive) camera and/or my iphone with me everywhere and take pictures of everything until I come up with something decent. Unfortunately, my iphone camera has jammed, and the Genius Bar told me that it was a lost cause and I can’t locate my usb cable for transferring my photos from my camera to my computer, so I’ve been out of luck on pictures for a while. (UPDATE: I just shamed myself into ordering a new cord already- good thing it only took writing a blog post about it.)

If getting the lighting right is your problem, then I would suggest making a homemade inexpensive lightbox. If I, the least crafty person I know, can make one, then so can you! The above photo is a test I took when I finished mine, and I think it turned out pretty well.

I’ve also been experimenting with different backgrounds by using poster board and scrapbooking paper as a background. What I’d really like to do is order these photo backdrop samples (just the right size for photographing wine bottles!) or something similar to use as a backdrop, either in the lightbox or in natural lighting.

2) Get serious about your image-editing. And by serious, I mean just use Canva.comIT IS MY EVERYTHING. This is where I go to create my cover image for each post- they give you easy and beautiful layouts that you can use, or you can build them yourself with their tools. A lot of their stuff is free, especially if you’re using images that you took yourself, and their stock photo prices are probably the best you will find anywhere. Usually I like to start with one of their templates and tinker with it until it’s unrecognizable, but I love a lot of their templates as they are. Either way, Canva is inexpensive (or free, if you use it like I do) and user-friendly. Plus, their design blog is great. I’ve started using Canva over layout software like Publisher, because starting out with a pre-made layout, even if it’s going to completely change, is way easier than starting out with a blank page.

3) Schedule wisely. Sometimes, sitting down and just writing is the hardest thing for me, when I have ten other projects going on. When I’m really on top of my blogging game, I am always two steps ahead and have several posts scheduled to go up in advance. The best thing for me and my schedule is to give myself a chunk of time and just bang out a couple posts at once and then schedule them. Sometimes (like this summer), it’s a struggle to even find one chunk of time, but a little preparation can go a long way. Prep a few cover photos for the blog on Canva before you even write anything. Outline a few posts when you have some spare time. Schedule some roundup posts (people love them!) if you need to buy yourself some time before writing a post.

When I writing a blog post, I usually start off by figuring out what type of post I want to do (wine region, wine varietal, Walla Walla wineries, food pairings, personal post, etc), and then I round up whatever images I’m going to use, which often involves hunting through my camera and phone for a picture I took way too long ago. Then, I get to work and start researching. If I’m doing a wine roundup post, then I have to go back through all the relevant wines I’ve tasted and/or acquire them and then taste them. Then the writing. Then editing. Then sometimes scrapping it all and starting over. Last, I use Canva to finish my graphic, which I then upload to WordPress. After I schedule the post, I preview everything to make sure the graphic looks good and there are no typos.

Blogging takes time and dedication, but I always find it worthwhile when I make the time for it. It gives me a certain focus in learning about wine if I know I’m going to write about it later! 

Revisiting Sonoma

Back in March (!), we had the wonderful opportunity to go back down to Sonoma again, for a very brief, but delicious trip. We took off from Walla Walla on Monday, had an amazing dinner that night, attended a very excellent luncheon at a very special winery, tasted at 3 other wineries and 1 brewery, and flew home the next morning.

John Ash & Co

We stayed at the beautiful Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa, and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, John Ash & Co, on our first night. My grandma was so incredibly excited to eat here, as she’d taken a cooking class from John Ash in Seattle, way back in the day, and she’d loved it. As a souvenir, we all got a signed copy of John Ash’s cookbook! And it was an incredible meal; I had the miso-glazed black cod with soba noodles and vegetables, and it was the most tender, perfectly cooked fish. I’ve experimented with a poor-man’s version of this meal since, and it’s always good, but never quite as good. We started off with sparkling wine and then moved on to the Flowers Pinot Noir, which was excellent. It was a very Pinot trip, which I found so exciting! Walla Walla is not exactly known for its Pinot, although the winery where I work does make one. Really, this meal started the trip off with a bang, and it just got better.

Kosta Browne Winery

The next day, we started off at 11am to the big event of the trip; our luncheon at the small and fairly exclusive Kosta Browne Winery. We were greeted with sparkling wine (not their own, but definitely festive!), given the tour of the new facility, and did some barrel tasting of Pinots from some radically different vineyards. The luncheon itself was very memorable; the main course was a southwestern-French cassoulet paired with two different Pinot Noirs: the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which was lighter with great fruit and the 2012 Santa Lucia Pinot Noir, which had some tannin to it and some earthiness. Both were fantastic; it’s probably a good thing that they wouldn’t let us buy wine then (although many of our group did sign up for the waiting list!), because I would have maxed out my wine budget here.

Iron Horse Winery

After lunch and debating our options, we took ourselves to Iron Horse Winery in search of some sparkling wine, because we can never, ever resist a nice bottle of bubbly. Iron Horse has an outdoor tasting bar on top of a hill, with some truly stunning views. They also have a winery cat, so naturally I spent most of my time during the tasting making friends with her (the cat’s name is LG, which stands for Late Disgorgement, a sparkling wine term for when the lees, or sediment from dead yeast cells, is taken out of the bottle of wine). Iron Horse makes a huge variety of wines, but we elected to taste just the sparkling.  We especially liked the Fairy Tale Cuvee and the Wedding Cuvee. All in all, we had a great time on that hilltop with the cat and the sparkling wine.

Papapietro Perry

Our tasting at Papapietro Perry was short; we only made it there at the very end of the day. What the tasting lacked in personality, it more than made up for in great wine. The Pinots had plenty of oomph to them, like those at Kosta Browne, but for a much lower price. We tried the Zinfandel, but we were just stuck on the Pinots this time. This was really my first experience with the Sonoma Pinots, and I found them to be full of flavor and body, with well balanced acidity. I’m sure you can find insipid, watery Pinots in California, but we definitely did not find them at Papapietro Perry.

We were only in Sonoma for one full day, but it felt like we’d been there for a week! I really enjoyed my time there, but it felt great to come home. Everyone we met in Sonoma was friendly and informative, but there’s something about the down-to-earth, agricultural feel of Walla Walla that makes me feel connected to the wines. Maybe it’s the difference of working in wine country here and visiting wine country there. Either way, I’ll definitely be back to Sonoma. When I do, where should I go and what should I see?

What I’ve Been Up To

I tend to disappear for weeks on end and then come back with a trickle of new posts (and then occasionally, a flood), and this time I’ve been gone from blogging for a month and a half! Partly, the busy season in Walla Walla has been heating up, and partly I’ve been focusing on other projects.

We went back down to Sonoma again last month for a delicious wine luncheon at Kosta Browne winery and a day of wine and beer tasting, which I’ll post fully about soon!

I‘ve also been pretty active going to tasting groups and wine events around Walla Walla (again, more posts to come!). In the last month, I’ve been to a sparkling wine tasting, a Burgundy tasting, a viognier tasting, and a Crawfish Boil (Rotie’s annual spring event).

But the main project that’s been taking up my free time has been my volunteer work doing social media for Shakespeare Walla Wallathe local nonprofit Shakespeare organization. We just recently had The Importance of Being Earnest on the stage, and I ran a fun (but time consuming!) social media campaign for it that involved a bowler hat and a treasure hunt! We have a lot of downtown Walla Walla businesses that support us, so we pitched this idea to them at the beginning of April; every day leading up to opening night, we would leave Earnest’s bowler hat at a different downtown business and post photo clues to our facebook page. Anyone who went in to the business and told the employees “I’m looking for my friend Earnest” got an immediate discount code for tickets. It was a lot of fun; I love that being in a small town allows for this kind of promotion with other businesses.

The show itself was hilarious (as Wilde always is- I think it’s hard to screw up when every line from his plays is quotable), and I’m glad that Walla Walla is developing more in terms of arts and culture- it pairs well with the wine culture here!

Hopefully, I will be able to make more time to blog now that the show is over (although we have a few more shows coming up- Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder next week, and Julius Caesar and Two Gentlemen of Verona this summer!) As always, I have a running list in my head of things I want to write about.

Winter Wine Blues: 5 Ways to Get Out of a Wine Rut

I’m the first to admit that I get the winter blues every year; everything gets gray, most of the wineries close, and no one comes to town.  Not to mention, everyone (including me) is trying to get rid of their holiday weight and save money after Christmas. But there is still fun to be had during the winter! Here are 5 ideas for having some fun with wine while everything’s still gray. 

1. Try a varietal you’ve never even heard of. Try 100! Check out the Century Club; you get to be a member if you try 100 different varietals of wine (even if you only try them in blends). I’ve only got about 50 under my belt, but I’m slogging away at it! I’ve never even heard of many of these varietals.

2. Go to a wine tasting, even if you don’t live in wine country. Many wine shops offer tastings every so often; check out your local wine shop’s Italian wine night or bubbly tasting! If you’re in the Seattle area, check out Esquin’s tastings. If you’re not, get on some email lists for wine shops in your area; they’ll let you know when they’re putting on tastings.

3. Check out a wine bar and try a flight of wines. Or pick something from the menu that you’ve never tried before. Or tell your server to surprise you. Wine bars are the hottest thing right now; they’re fun spots for a date or just to catch up with friends, and they often have “hidden gem” wines that you can’t find anywhere else. Try one of these places, if you live near one.

4. Have blind tasting nights. Invite some friends over once a week; each week, someone opens a secret bottle, and everyone else has to guess what it is and where it’s from. Write tasting notes for it yourselves; that’s definitely the best part.

5. Pair wine and movie nights. Heavy cabs for drama, light and easy grenache for comedies, whatever other pairings you can think of! I’d pair Rotie & El Corazon’s The Swordfight with Firefly, because it’s a serious, meaty wine, but fun and a little crazy at the same time. But maybe not, because the Swordfight is on the pricier side, and I rewatch Firefly too often for that.

The Sexiest-Sounding Region is Vouvray: Some Facts

I really like the way the name Vouvray sounds. I feel like if you walked into a restaurant and said “I’ll have a glass of Vouvray, please,” you would sound like the sexiest and classiest person at the restaurant, which is why I’ll be ordering Vouvray at all the restaurants from now on.

Some notes from our Vouvray tasting group meeting earlier this week: “It smells like a lawnmower. It’s like someone mowing the lawn and smoking a cigarette.” “It smells like someone mowing the lawn and smoking a cigarette and drinking lemonade at the same time. On a hot day.” What we concluded was that Vouvray has a distinct diesel/gasoline smell to it, and often a citrusy and slightly grassy or herbal smell as well. It wasn’t bad, it was just very distinctive.

Vouvray is a wine region in the Loire Valley. In the upper-middle part of France, southwest of Paris, Vouvray is a well-known regions for white wines. Almost all the wines that come from this region are Chenin Blanc, and they’re often off-dry and sometimes sparkling. Chenin Blanc is pretty acidic, which balances out any sweetness to the wines, and makes a great pairing with spicy foods or seafood. The soil of the region brings out very minerally notes in the wines, which we noticed in our tasting. The cooler climate in the Loire produces wines with higher acidity, and cooler years tend to produce drier Vouvrays while warmer years produce sweeter ones.

We tasted five different Vouvrays (okay, four Vouvrays and one Walla Walla Chenin Blanc for comparison), and they were a wide range of sugar levels. The favorite seemed to be the off-dry Vouvray with lots of acidity and lemon notes, while many people liked the completely dry Chenin Blanc from Walla Walla. Sometime, we’ll have to do a tasting of Savennièreswhich is a regions that specializes in dry Chenin Blancs.

Drink Vouvray with dishes with rich, flavorful sauces, seafood fettucine alfredo, crab cakes, coconut curry, salty cheeses, or duck. I voted for the crab cakes, but no one brought me any.

Does anyone have Vouvray stories? If not, just start saying the word frequently, and stories will happen. 

Bubbly 101

This post would probably have been better before Christmas and New Year’s, since sparkling wines have their peak sales then, but I’m on board the all-year-bubbly train, so I’m writing it now. There isn’t a whole lot of sparkling wine in Walla Walla, because most wineries don’t own the equipment needed to make sparkling wines. Castillo de Feliciana and Isenhower Cellars are the two local wineries that make a limited release sparkling wine, and Treveri Cellars in Yakima, WA is a well-known sparkling wine house in the state. Maybe I can blame it on the lack of local bubbly, but for the longest time, I was a part of the champagne-at-NYE-only crowd; champagne labels confused me (“sec”, “demi-sec”, “brut”- mystifying!), and most of the people I knew were drinking bottom-shelf Andre’s, which was clearly not quality sparkling material, even to my untrained palate. But slowly, I’ve been coming out of my still-wine shell and discovering lots of great and inexpensive bubbly wines!

The very first thing I want to clear up is all the terminology that comes along with sparkling wine. When I learned myself a little bit about the terms, I found it a lot easier to pick out a sparkling wine from the many choices. Here’s a little glossary of words I’m glad I know:

methode champenoise/methode traditionelle: If one of these phrases appears on the label, this wine was made in the style traditionally used in the Champagne region of France; the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, creating bubbles. This is the most expensive method of making sparkling wine. Champagne (sparkling wine made in the Champagne region) and Cava (sparkling wine made in Spain) are fermented with this method.

charmat: This is a different method of creating sparkling wine; the wine goes through secondary fermentation in a tank, creating bubbles, and is then transferred into bottles. This method is less expensive, but can produce some really great value sparkling wines. Many proseccos are done in this method, as well as a lot of the value priced sparkling wines all over the world.

Champagne: Sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, typically out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

Cava: Sparkling wine made in Spain, typically out of Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada.

Prosecco: Sparkling wine made from the prosecco grape in Italy.

Cremant: A sparkling wine from a specific region and specific grapes in France; for instance, “Cremant de Limoux”, which is made with Mauzac grapes in the Limoux region, or “Cremant de la Loire” , which is mainly Cab Franc or Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. These wines are highly regulated: only 7 Cremants are recognized in France.

The next most confusing thing about sparkling wine is, for me, the sweetness level. From driest to sweetest, it goes:

Extra Brut/Brut Nature



Demi-Sec/Off Dry


I personally prefer Brut sparkling wines; I like a little bit of sweetness to round it out, but not enough to be  a sweet wine. Many people will say they like only the driest, but I’m willing to bet that Extra Brut/Brut Nature, with no sugar at all, is a little too tart for many palates.

What to eat with sparkling wines? Depends on the sugar levels! The driest sparkling wines will be light and lean, with great acidity: perfect with spicy foods or creamy sauces. Seafood fettucine alfredo, coconut milk curry, or brie would be great with these sparklers. Brut or Sec would be great with some cheeses as an aperitif, or some light finger foods like crostini with an olive tapenade. The sweet sparkling wines go really well with dessert; sweet foods will make dry wines taste sour, so pour some demi-sec bubbly to go with cake or strawberries and cream!

Now we can all go peruse our local sparkling wine shelf at the grocery store and come back with a better idea of what we’re getting ourselves into!


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