Many people bring home mementos from their travels – artwork, t-shirts, refrigerator magnets, specialty foods, even music. I bring home bottles of vino for my wine cellar.
Twenty-nineteen was, for my husband and I, a year of travel. And because we love wine, from Portugal to France, New Zealand to Australia, Oregon, Washington, and California, we visited lots of wine regions. The year 2020 is, we know, not a year of travel. But the precious bottles of wine we bring back from our trips become beautiful reminders of where we’ve been. These are my mementos. So why not take a trip to my wine cellar while we wait out this quarantine, and start reliving some of those memories?
A Week in Provence
A bottle of 2016 Vieux Telegraph Grenache brings back vivid memories of time spent in the tiny town of Vaison la Romaine in the heart of Provence. Drawn here for a writer’s workshop led by Seattle’s well-known travel writer, Nick O’Connell, I joined six other writers for a week in one of the most idyllic places I’ve ever visited. For years I’ve dreamt of spending time in Provence, and Nick couldn’t have done a better job picking out this location.
Our hotel was fashioned out of a medieval hilltop palace above the town. Our “classroom,” a rose-filled garden, featured outdoor seating and views of the town below. Each morning our group met there for breakfast, dining on freshly cooked omelets, fruit, croissants, and local preserves. We learned better writing techniques, ways to better express ourselves and engage our readers. In the afternoons, we visited the farmer’s market, made famous by food writer Patricia Wells, visited several wineries in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, toured the Roman engineering marvel Pont du Gard, and explored the former papal center of Avignon.
But it was the magical evenings I most remember, evenings full of laughter, French cuisine, and Rhone wine. Nick, who speaks fluent French and knows the region well, ordered dinner and wine for all of us. And the wine was delicious. The Rhone Valley is made up of several wine regions including, Croze-Hermitage, Cotes du Rhone, Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to name a few. Through Nick’s guidance, I learned to tell the difference between a wine from Hermitage and Cotes du Rhone. I learned that I love the earthy flavor of wines from Gigondas.
As a parting gift on our last night, Nick presented each participant with a certificate tailored to each person’s unique personality, and a bottle of the Vieux Telegraph Grenache. The bottle, tucked away in my wine suitcase, safely made it home. I’ll be serving it with Beef Bourguignon (Julia Child’s recipe, of course) and freshly baked French bread.
Portugal’s Alentejo Wine Region
A bottle of 2017 Esporão Reserve White, tucked away in one wine rack, reminds me how much I enjoyed the wines of Portugal. In the Azore Islands, off the coast of Portugal, I discovered the fragrant, complex white blends from the Alentejo wine region, south of Lisbon. Smooth, round, and affordably priced, we bought them in grocery stores, drank them in restaurants, and sipped on them in Peter’s famous Café Sport on Faial Island. When we headed to Lisbon, I knew a side trip to Alentejo was bound to happen.
With a rugged coastline, medieval cities, rolling hillsides, and whitewashed villages, Alentejo is a vast and beautiful region. It produces more than half of the world’s cork supply, evident by the long stretches of cork forests we passed on our drive.
It would be easy to spend several days in Alentejo following the wine route. We had limited time and chose to visit Herdade do Esporão, one of the country’s most recognized wine producers.
This modern facility provides a relaxed and informative wine tasting experience. Expect to be seated and walked through a pleasurable wine tasting by a knowledgeable host. Adjacent to the tasting room, a fine dining restaurant makes it easy to linger here.
When I open the Reserve Blend, I’ll pair it with petiscos, or appetizers, such as deep fried sardines, brandade (a combination of cod and mashed potatoes served on a small piece of toasted bread) and peixinhos da Horta (tempura green beans). This Portuguese comfort food is also known as “little fish from the garden” because they resemble small, deep fried fish.
Australia’s Hunter Valley
Another delightful red, a 2017 House of Sticks Shiraz Piggs Peake, is a happy reminder of our visit to Australia’s Hunter Valley. I’m especially fond of Australia and have been fortunate to visit many of its wine regions. But the Hunter Valley has special meaning because we went with family and friends.
Joined by our daughter, Ashley, who lives in Sydney, and our good friend Jon and his family, we headed to Hunter Valley for a long weekend of food, wine, and play. Jon’s daughter-in-law, Rhonda, who knows the Hunter quite well, played tour guide for us Yanks. A warm region just two hours from Sydney, it’s well known for Shiraz and Chardonnay. “The Hunter,” as the locals call it, is home to 150 cellar doors. And, yes, we saw kangaroos hopping about outside of our condo.
We visited Leogate Estate, a luxurious five-star winery with its own helicopter pad and fine dining restaurant. Their 2015 Vicki’s Choice Reserve Chardonnay could easily stand up to any Napa or Sonoma County Chardonnay.
Scarborough, one of the leading names in Hunter Valley wine, is a family-owned business. Their bright, modern cellar door offers relaxed seated tastings. A cheese platter complemented our white wine tasting. Another producer of excellent chardonnay, their 2013 Yellow Label Chardonnay (not to be confused with another Australian wine that has the word “yellow” in its name) from their museum collection proved that white wine, when made well, can stand the test of time.
But Piggs Peake, a sharp contrast to many of the other opulent cellar doors in the Hunter, is Rhonda’s favorite winery. Known for making bold, expressive reds, the 2017 House of Sticks Shiraz caught my attention and came home in my wine suitcase. This bottle, when I open it, will remind me of time spent with my daughter and dear friends, filled with love and laughter. These memories are especially important now that we are unsure of when we can be together again. But we’ll throw some “shrimp on the barbie” and drink a glass to Down Under.
More Wines from Our Travels
I discovered a 2016 Schubert Marion’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from our time in the tiny wine village of Martinborough, New Zealand. There’s a non-vintage Gruet sparkling wine that I purchased in Santa Fe before the IFWTWA conference. A 2017 Olive Farm Wines Red Blend from the Swan Valley in Western Australia is aging for a few years. A 2015 Brooks Sparkling Wine from a trip to the Willamette Valley will grace my Mother’s Day brunch this weekend. Bottles from Argentina, Chile, Napa Valley, and Washington fill the racks in my wine cellar. Ideas for country-themed dinners to pair with them swirl through my head. I could probably enjoy the rest of this quarantine in that wine cellar of mine.
What’s in Your Wine Cellar?
So what’s in your wine cellar? A tempranillo from Spain? Is a paella dinner in your future? How about a French Chablis from Burgundy? Would that pair well with a roasted rosemary chicken?
As we wait to travel again, I’ll find ways to reminisce about the places I’ve been, dream about the places I want to go, and think about the wines I’ll taste when I get there.