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The Wine Bars of Bordeaux, Part I

Big Caveat: I have not yet been to every wine bar in Bordeaux. There is a wine bar on every corner, like Starbucks in Seattle, and (contrary to popular belief), I do go to school and don’t spend all my waking hours drinking wine (although I will admit that we do sometimes have wine at school).

These are three of the wine bars that I’ve found myself going back to, although there are still so many to discover!

  1. Quatre Coins du Vin: The first wine bar I went to, the very first day of classes in October, and the very first day that I knew I was going to love the people in my program. The concept is great: the wine-by-the-glass dispensers (so many of them in one room!) allow you to buy a taste, a half glass, or a full glass, so you can choose the kind of experience you want. Since they have 23 wines available for tasting, and we are (obviously) a group of wine geeks, we opted to taste. And oh, did we taste! From Argentina to South Africa to France, and even a Zinfandel from California, we tasted. The owners, Benjamin Bouet and Chloe Allano, are young, dynamic, love wine, and know their stuff. Would recommend to: anyone looking for a wide range of wines to try in one night. Wine nerds. 
  2. La Conserverie: So welcoming, and such a cozy atmosphere. The wine selection has a range of prices, and you can buy by the glass or grab a bottle from the shelf and drink it there for a small corkage fee. I have never had less than a stellar welcome there. The wine selection may not be huge, but it changes frequently, and I’ve had some really incredibly value wines. I’ve been here several times, both in a larger group and for a quiet drink. It doesn’t hurt that it’s on my favorite street in Bordeaux: Rue Notre Dame. Would recommend for: a glass of wine to unwind with friends after a long week, or date night (for wine nerds). 
  3. Verre O Vin: This is a quiet neighborhood joint that always seems to fill up just after I get there. This is the most versatile of the three, with an extensive list of wines by the bottles but also the cool wine-dispensing machines that make tasting so much fun! The walls are old stone, which is one of the things I love about France, that you can sit and have a drink in old buildings where people may or may not have been drinking wine for hundreds of years. They know their wine here, and can tell you something about every bottle. I’ve seen large parties here, as well as small groups of friends, and couples, so there really is something for everyone. Would recommend to: someone looking for a low-key evening, but who is also a wine nerd. 

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So, if you’re in Bordeaux, these are three not to miss, along with countless others (seriously, wine bars are the Starbucks of Bordeaux). If you have any suggestions for places to check out, let me know; I’m always on the lookout for somewhere new!

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

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?

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?

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone’s holiday season has been great! In the past 10 days, I have driven across a mountain pass at night in the snow, drank more sparkling wine in one week than I have in the last few months, given a lot of gifts, gotten a lot of gifts, seen more of my relatives than I have in two years, lost a cocktail contest, been invited on a trip to Napa in 2014, gotten lost on the way to a tea shop thanks to my sister, and read two murder mysteries, and it’s not even New Year’s yet!

Wines I tried at least a sip of over Christmas:

2008 Owen Roe Pinot Noir

2010 Soos Creek Artist Series

NV Lini Lambrusco Rosso

2004 Canoe Ridge Merlot

2008 Rotie VdP

2009 Rotie Southern Blend

NV Torre Oria Cava

NV Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux

NV German Gilbert Cava Rosat

2010 Fielding Hills Cab Franc

2009 Olsen Estates Edythe May Syrah

2009 (?) Columbia Crest H3 Chardonnay

and an unidentified Italian white wine that we found hiding in my mom’s cellar, after she claimed to have no white wines at all

And now I’m back in Walla Walla and waking up to the residue of freezing fog all over the trees and vines! Now, what’s everyone drinking for New Year’s?

What I’m Drinking: Cellar Edition

I’ve been pretty good about dipping into my cellar instead of buying more wine (mostly), and I’ve been having some pretty awesome wine lately. But what I really need to do is start drinking some of my old old bottles before moving onto the younger stuff; I just get really excited about the new wines I add to my cellar and start drinking them right away!

Right now the oldest bottle I own is:

2000 Syrah from Seven Hills winery.

Seven Hills is one of the oldest wineries in Walla Walla, started in 1988 (our wine industry is still a baby here), and is known for having great wines that do very, very well in the cellar. 13 years is a long time to hold onto a Walla Walla wine; usually they peak around 5-6 years after the vintage date, but Seven Hills is known for having wine that can hang out in the cellar long after most Washington wines should be drunk. I hear a lot about Seven Hills Merlots and not as much about their Syrahs, so I’m extra curious to see what this bottle is like and how it’s doing after so many years. I was eleven when these grapes were harvested! 

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar?

Sigh of Relief for Fall Release

Everyone can let out a sigh of relief now that Fall Release is over! We had a crazy busy Saturday, and then we held our Fall Release Wine Club party that evening, so it was a long day for everyone. Sunday and Monday were much quieter, which gave us some much-needed time to put the winery back together.

 

All the grapes are in from harvest! We have some more grapes going through fermentation and crush, and then everything will be in barrel; we’ll see the whites this spring/summer, and the reds in a couple years.

 

Things should be slowing down, so I should have more time to blog soon!

First Time: Doing Punch Downs!

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Not as violent as it sounds, punch downs are when you use a paddle tool to punch through the cap of grape skins that form on the top of a fermenting vat of wine and then stir everything around a lot to mix in some oxygen. It’s a necessary part of wine making, and those people working production do it twice a day during crush, for dozens of fermenters. It’s an ab and arm workout too, for sure. Most people stand on the edge of the vat itself, but I’m a total newbie, so I got to stand on a ladder.

“Watch her and make sure she doesn’t fall in,” is what the assistant manager said to the cellar hand who was showing me the ropes. Points for me for not falling, I guess! I’ve never done anything on the production side before, despite my curiosity about it. No one else could understand why I was so excited about doing punch downs, and no one really thought I was going to do them. When I got up on that ladder, everyone started gathering around with camera phones; not a bad thing, because now I have commemorative photos.

I only punched down 3 fermenters; I can imagine I’d be really sore if I’d done as many as the production crew does every day! Sometimes I forget that a lot of winemaking is just the routine tasks like punch downs, pumping over the wine, and cleaning and topping off barrels. There’s kind of a glamorous image of winemakers sitting around smelling wine and concocting different blends, but this is really a getting-your-hands-dirty kind of profession. I was really happy to get a small taste of what the production side is like! I’m hoping they’ll let me back to help with more punchdowns….

Still Here and Other Updates

Hi there; I’m still alive and drinking wine, just busy! I just drank the 2012 L’Ecole 41 Grenache rosé last night, and it was delicious I’m sure I’ll drink more wine soon, and I’ll be around hopefully in the fall to update you on it.

Harvest is just about to begin/already beginning here in Walla Walla! I’m writing a post all about harvest and what that entails.

Fall Wine Club season is about to begin (so, maybe I won’t get less busy at work in the fall, but I will have more time to blog!) . Again, writing a post about Wine Club and what that entails as well.

Walla Walla in the fall is my favorite,  so if you’ve been planning to visit our beautiful little city, now is the time! Late September or October when the leaves are changing color is magnificent here.