Lovely, Bubbly London

Wine London Clos Maggiore

I daresay, a good adventure or two is always in order. Husband and I seem to manage a few each year, and our most recent little jaunt to London was the perfect way to start off 2018. Our first trip away from Baby got off to a fantastic start; I passed my terrible head cold to Little Man, resulting in his first multi-day fever, complete with cough, runny nose and extremely unusual[1] lack of sleep. As we passed him off to Grandma, my heartstrings were strung quite taut. But alas, the show must go on, eh?[2]

The plane ride across the Pond was virtually empty, enabling me to stretch out over an entire row and promptly conk out[3]. The overnight flight to Europe is really the best way to go, and we arrived in London in the morning, somewhat bright eyed and ready to start our day. The sideways rain that greeted us, however, made it impossible to enjoy our 24 hours outside. Lucky for us, we were staying at The Goring, London’s last family-owned boutique hotel, beloved by the Queen, the Middleton’s[4], and now, Wine Esquire. It is nothing but elegance and class. The doormen donning smart bowler hats created a canopy of umbrellas from our Uber to the front door, and the red liveried footmen whisked away our bags lickety split[5].

The Goring, London
The Goring, London

The cozy bar and lounge proved the perfect place to nurse my sniffles with a glass (or three) of the Ayala Brut Majeur, the Goring’s private Cuvée[6], and the extensive Scotch selection kept Husband entertained for a few hours. Filled with overstuffed couches, low leather chairs and a massive fireplace, the Lounge feels like your dear old friend’s living room[7], making it ideal for pre-lunch bubbly, post-dinner Scotch, sweet nightcaps, and of course, a final cuppa tea.

The Goring
Bubbles in the Lounge at the Goring

We did eventually venture out in the rain to eat and drink[8], and our first stop was the famed Gordon’s Wine Bar near Covent Garden. This underground bar has been serving glasses of wine to Londoners for more than 100 years, and is London’s oldest wine bar. Yellowed newspaper clippings about the Queen’s Coronation, her and Phillip’s 25th wedding anniversary, and the official Christening portraits of Prince William and Prince George adorn the cavernous walls[9]. The half bottle of Côtes du Rhône was lovely paired with our gorgeous selection of bread and cheese[10]. Inconveniently, I left my perfectly lovely wide brimmed hat behind, and when I went back to try and retrieve it, I was disappointed to find it had already departed. Ah, woe is me[11].

Wine at Gordon's Wine Bar, London
Half Bottle at Gordon’s

On our way to dinner we made a quick stop to Trafalgar Square[12], one of our favorite locations in London, if not the world. Lord Nelson standing atop his column, overlooking the city, Parliament, Big Ben and the River, with all of England’s treasures in the National Gallery right behind him is a truly awe-inspiring site[13].

We arrived for dinner at Clos Maggiore, which professes to be the world’s most romantic restaurant. It turns out it takes about a year to get a reservation in the Conservatory Room, and though our hotel concierge tried, we were relegated to the small dining area outside the famed flowery chamber[14]

Even without the exquisite ambience of the Conservatory, the restaurant was beautiful. Small, intimate and quite cozy. The menu was tantalizing, with several tasting menu options as well as à la carte dining. We started with the pumpkin soup, topped with toasted pine nuts. Holy Soup! The frothy texture had us licking our lips, and the flavors were out of this world. The chicken leg stuffed with foie gras and truffle was too good for Husband to pass up, and I relished a bit of goat cheese baked in homemade angel hair[15].

wine London
Fine dining with a bottle of Burgundy

The 100+ page wine list featuring more than 2,500 wines was a bit daunting, but Clos Maggiore’s sommelier team is made up of Burgundy lovers, and they conveniently had a list highlighting some of their more affordable options[16]. I chose the 2014 Domaine Lucien Boillot Gevrey Chambertin, and our Sommelier confirmed it would pair well with both of our meals. Light, cherry, lots of leather and beautiful soft tannins. The wine glasses were exquisite in their own right, and it was a truly lovely bottle for my first real red Burgundy.

Wine London Clos Maggiore
Burgundy in London

In an unlikely turn of events, we said no to dessert and headed back out into the London air. The rain continued to hold off and we found ourselves walking along the River Thames[17], admiring the London Eye, and bemoaning the construction that will leave Big Ben hidden under scaffolding for the next few years. We made our way back to The Goring and relaxed in the Lounge for a bit before finally retiring for the night.

London Eye
The London Eye

We breakfasted the next morning in the hotel’s Michelin-starred dining room on a feast of croissants, fruit, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, Lincolnshire ham and of course, English Breakfast Tea. After a quick walk ‘round Buckingham, which is just steps from the hotel, we were off on our way to a weekend at Highclere Castle with our friends Lord and Lady Carnarvon[18]. Fabulous parties ensued.

Highclere Castle Downton Abbey

Until the next glass!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Knock on wood, Little Man has been such a great sleeper from day one. Of course, the day we leave, he ends his months long sleep-through-the-night streak, just in time to properly wear Grandma out!
[2] Seriously though Grandma, we owe you one!
[3] Who needs first class when you’ve got coach to yourself? Mmmmm, I do. British Airways take note: I’m ready for my upgrade on the next leg of the journey!!
[4] They booked the entire hotel for three days before The Wedding, and it’s where Kate spent her last night as a Commoner.
[5] According to David Morgan-Hewitt, the Goring’s legendary managing director, “Everyone has butlers – but people with real style have footmen.” #truth
[6] Served out of a magnum from a large, well-stocked, silver champagne bucket which permanently sits atop the bar.
[7] You know that friend of yours with the lovely London town house with antique furnishings passed down from their great Grandmama? Don’t have one of those? Oh, right, sorry.
[8] Obviously, because #priorities.
[9] Cleary, this is my kind of wine bar. #royal
[10] St. Nectaire, Manchego and Stilton, served on a wooden board with mayonnaise, jelly and pickled onions. Of course. #WineAndCheeseIsLife
[11] I think what this really means is that I need to buy a new hat.
[12] The rain had thankfully stopped, though perhaps this is why I didn’t notice I’d left my hat at Gordon’s. ☹
[13] #InsertPictureHere. But did I take one? No. #amateur
[14] In fact, I chose not to go in to take a look so as not to ruin the beautiful memory we had. We’ll just have to book it out in advance for next time, for we certainly will be back.
[15] The goat cheese was my attempt at eating light given my continued head cold. #fitfam
[16] Alas, we regretfully decided to forego the £23,100 bottle of Romanée-Conti. Maybe next time.
[17] Pronounced “Temz”, not “Thames” like the river at home in Connecticut.
[18] Have you red her blog yet? It’s a lovely insight into daily life at the Castle and such a fun read!

Heading Back for Fancy in Francey: Round Deux

Remember last year when I won that dream trip to France? And I got to taste the 2015 Bordeaux En Primeur?

Just tasting some 2015 Lynch Bages. #NBD

And I made some fabulous international wine blogging friends?

wine bloggers bordeaux france
International Wine Bloggers Do Bordeaux

And I ate gold-topped deviled eggs at La Grande Maison, Bernard Magrez’ Michelin starred restaurant?

I only eat my deviled eggs when they’re topped with gold. #FancyinFrancey

Yea, me too. It was great[1].

Well, later this month I’m heading back to Bordeaux for a few days to get my taste and tour on. My best good friends at Millesima have invited me to return to re-taste the 2015 vintage and see what a year has done to those incredible Bordeaux wines. This will be mere weeks before the 2016 vintage is released for the wine world to taste[2].

I can’t wait to return to beautiful Bordeaux city. I’ll certainly be heading over to La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux’s Disney World of Wine Museum.

I’m also planning a day in the surrounding vineyards with my good friend Mike from Please Bring Me My Wine. He and his partner JB have got a bit of a wine thing going on in Bordeaux and have a snazzy 1971 VW “combi” for wine tasting and touring the area[3].

Have any Bordeaux vineyard/restaurant/tourist suggestions I need to try? I’ll have a bit more time to explore on my own this time around. Thanks again to my good friends at Millesima for the opportunity!

Cheers my friends. Until the next glass!

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] #sorrynotsorry
[2] Alas, this year I will not be among them, as a new crop of wine bloggers have risen up to take our places. I wish them well. Remember to pack your wine wipes! #wineteeth
[3] I had to ask what a “combi” was. I thought it was some sort of British slang like Whirly Windy Pops that I hadn’t heard of before. Turns out “combi” is just short for “combination van”. I love the Brits.

bordeaux wine Chateau d'yquem
Angels sing all day at Château d’Yquem

Wine Flies When You’re On a Plane

You may recall that I flew out to California in August for the Wine Bloggers Conference[1].

One of the great things about the conference is that the location changes every year, giving wine bloggers the opportunity to visit new wine regions across the country. Lodi is not only an excellent wine producing region, the city itself was also an excellent host to the several hundred wine bloggers that descended in from all over the world.

Welcome to Lodi
Welcome to Lodi

It also turns out that Lodi is surrounded by lots and lots of wine. Since I was in California wine country, I figured I couldn’t leave without making a few stops to do some field research. So Laura, my new Italian wine blogging friend, and I took our matching convertibles up to Clarksburg on our way to the airport on Sunday. We met up with Robin from Wine Flights in Sacramento who I’d met at the conference; he was a native and offered to show us around.

California Life
California Life

We made our first stop at Miner’s Leap, a winery owned by a lawyer who I’d met at a conference panel the day before. I thought I was busy, but then I met Loyal Miner. He’s a named partner in a Sacramento law firm and a few years back decided to open a winery. No big deal. While he wasn’t mowing the lawn[2], blending wine or writing summary judgment briefs, he decided he should expand his operations and build a concert amphitheater on the grounds of the vineyard. We arrived and he was knee deep in concrete getting it ready for the concert that was scheduled to occur the following weekend.

Tasting Room at Miner's Leap
Tasting Room at Miner’s Leap

We tasted some wines and then headed to our next stop: Lunch[3]. It was a little BBQ joint called Husick’s Taphouse that was just about the quaintest thing I ever did see. We walked in to an gentleman playin’ his guitar and singin’ the blues. The family-owned restaurant showed us a good time, and my bacon, turkey and avocado Panini was to die for. They insisted we leave with a bottle of wine that we enjoyed with our meal.

Singin' the Blues
Singin’ the Blues

By this point in the trip, I had four bottles packed in my suitcase[4] and I didn’t think I had room for more. Getting the wine home is always such a dilemma[5]. We had at least two more places to visit and I couldn’t buy any wine[6]. In stepped Robin to save the day. He’s the brain behind, Wine Flights in Sacramento, a new wine tourism company that organizes all your travel needs in the Sacramento area. They recognized that Sacramento isn’t a top wine tourism destination, which is silly since it has an international airport and more than 600 wineries within an hour’s drive. It’s a less expensive way to experience California wine country without sacrificing the quality. The best part is, they’ve developed a wine carrying case to get you and six of your favorite bottles home safe on the plane. He had a prototype in his trunk and agreed to let me try it. Score! I now had room for more bottles! We backtracked to Miner’s Leap where he’d wanted to send me home with wine, but due to my former space quandary, I’d had to refuse. I’m now the proud owner of two lawyer-made wines.

Next up on our journey was Bogle, the iconic winery that produces more than 2 million bottles per year, far more than all other wineries in Clarksburg combined. Bogle is one of my go-to repeat wines, especially for parties where I know we’ll be going through wine quick[7]. It’s great quality at an affordable price. Robin told us about the special blends they make available only at the tasting room, so I was excited to try.

Bogle Vineyard California
Vineyard Life

We were running a bit low on time[8], so we didn’t do a full tasting, but what we did taste was fantastic. The Rosé was so good I had to buy a bottle[9]. And it was only $13. The winery itself was beautiful too; several production buildings sat next to the tasting room which looked out over acres of vines. The lawn was packed with people listening to live music, eating pizzas from the mobile wood-fired pizza truck. And good wine was obviously flowing.

Bogle Wine California

Time continued to tick, and Robin really wanted to show us one last place, The Sugar Mill. We weaved along the back country roads[10] until we arrived at an old massive factory complex. In various stages of renovation, the first building is one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen. Talk about innovative entrepreneurship; they’ve taken the shared space model and really made it work. Eleven wineries have their tasting room here so visitors can come to one spot and enjoy lots of local wines without having to drive to multiple wineries. We weren’t there long[11] but it was a nice taste of what the Clarksburg area had to offer.

Bogle Wine California

Traffic was light and check-in was a breeze, so Laura and I had some time to kill before our flight. We settled in to the Vino Volo right outside our gate and gabbed and Instagrammed over a flight of Rosé. Not a bad way to prepare for a flight.

Wine Vino Volo Airport
Pre Flight Vino Volo

I had two flights to get home and for my first leg, I was glad I had a window seat. The landscape was incredible, again, and this time the sunset was absolutely breathtaking. Wine adventures are so much fun!

Wine with a view
Wine with a view

I’d finished my book on the flight out, and lucky for me I’d met a new wine friend at the conference who happened to write a book! She gave me an autographed copy for my flight home; the subject is wine and romance, so clearly I was hooked from page one.

Wine Book Plane

I arrived home safe and sound, and so did my wine, even though I failed to properly seal the box[12].  Thanks Wine Flights in Sacramento!

Safe and sound!
Safe and sound!

I’ll certainly be back and I’ll need another empty box to fill! And thanks so much to the #WBC16 Scholarship Committee for funding my travel scholarship to get me out to the conference. Can’t wait for next year!

Lawyer Footnotes

#WBC16
#WBC16

[1] See Pre-Cap, Recap, Gewürztraminer, and Goats. When’s the next wine trip, Universe? I’m ready!
[2] He insists on doing it himself. No OCD here at all. But it does look good.
[3] Because, #priorities.
[4] Which was only medium sized, not my jumbo.
[5] #WinoProblems
[6] HashtagSadface

Crazy California landscape
Crazy California landscape

[7] Hello Book Club.
[8] That whole “catch a plane thing”.
[9] Thank god I had some extra room!
[10] With the top down. Obvi.
[11] The space was amazing but my Type A personality was really starting to kick in, so we had to say our goodbyes and make our way to the airport.
[12] Oops.

 

Wine Blogger Friends
Wine Blogger Friends

 

The Old Sugar Mill
The Old Sugar Mill
View from the air
View from the air

Goats, Groves & Grapes #WBC16

I love going on adventures. Earlier this month I flew out to Lodi for the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference[1] and it was quite the adventure. Part of the conference agenda was a mystery excursion where attendees picked their destination based purely on the name. The choices included Watts Up, The Wine Abides, Three Ring Circus, The Rack Pack, 99 Bottles of Wine, The Porron Zone, Dutch Crush, Blends with Friends, and my snap pick, Goats, Groves & Grapes[2].

Wine Instagram

While everyone seemed to have a grand old time on their excursions, I can’t help but think that mine was very special[3]. A group of about ten bloggers packed into a van and I was happy to see that Jeff, one of my best good Twitter friends, who I’d yet to meet in person, was in my group.

It took us about ten minutes to get to our first destination, Jessie’s Grove Winery. We were greeted by Wanda Bechtold[4] and her son Greg Burns, fourth and fifth generation owners and caretakers of the winery. They welcomed us into their tasting room with a glass of Chardonnay and quickly brought us through to an outdoor space where we gathered around Wanda and settled in for a tale of the history of Jessie’s Grove.

Jessie's Grove Winery
Bloggers and cats are like peas and carrots

This 85 year old matriarch was a beautiful sight to behold. She’d published a book in 2004[5] about the history of her family’s estate and she used it to tell us the tale of her great grandfather, Joseph Spenker, who immigrated to the United States from Dragun, Germany in 1854. His journey to Lodi started when he joined a wagon train to the West Coast in 1859, hoping to capitalize on the Gold Rush and find his fortune. At a rate of about two miles per hour, the journey took him 154 days. He’d made a poor decision when he traded his only horse for a mining claim that turned out to be barren; so and after several months when nothing had panned out,[6] with $1.27 in his pocket he walked to Stockton, California. He began selling mining tools to the miners who hadn’t yet lost hope, and in ten years, after saving and scraping, he found himself the proud owner of more than 1,500 acres, including the land I found myself sitting on that day.

Jessie's Grove Winery
Jessie Spenker, the namesake of Jessie’s Grove

Joseph’s daughter Jessie, who the winery is named for, took over management and had to make some tough decisions during the Great Depression and Prohibition. Jessie’s perseverance is what kept them going. As the roosters crowed and the cat meowed from under the table in front of us, I realized what a special moment this was, and how much history was surrounding me. The resulting success of Jessie’s Grove is a testament to the hard work and forethought from each generation of the Spenker family who sacrificed to keep the operation going.

When Wanda’s tale was over, we took a tour of the surrounding property[7]; a gorgeous sprawling space with a rustic old barn, a live music venue, an open air museum, and last but not least, Tortie, Wanda’s pet tortoise.

Tortie the Tortoise
Careful, he likes fingers!
Winery Barn
Winery wedding anyone?

Greg, Wanda’s son and current owner, walked us through the vines, which were almost ready to start harvesting. Some vines had been planted as far back as the late 1800s, making them some of Lodi’s oldest.

Grapes on the Vine
Grapes on the Vine
Bloggers in the Winery
Getting the perfect shot #bloggersgonnablog

Just as we were grabbing the perfect photo of the sunlight on the grapes, our van appeared and it was time to travel to our next stop, their “cousin” property, Spenker Winery[8]. Just a few minutes down the road, another branch of the Spenker family also grows grapes, but on a bit of a smaller scale. This Spenker bunch has been growing grapes for more than 100 years. Fritz Spenker bought the farm from his relative, Joseph Spenker, Jessie’s father. It’s not clear how they’re related exactly, so the families continue to refer to each other as cousins. Fritz’s grandson Chuck began making wine with his wife Bettyann in 1994, and by 1997 they’d earned a 90 rating from Wine Spectator. In addition to their two daughters, Kate and Sarah, the Spenker’s have brought on lots of goats to help with farm tasks, and now Bettyann makes fabulous, fresh goat cheese. The plan is to have the Spenker Artisan Creamery open in 2017[9].

Goats
Soooooo excited!

We were introduced to the goats and even got to feed them. They were just as excited as we were! When it was time for them to go to bed, we headed into the tasting room for dinner. Our meal of homemade stuffed peppers with a healthy side of fresh grown tomatoes and homemade goat cheese was stunning. The cheesecake finish was topped with an exquisite zinfandel reduction. It was exactly what we needed after our strenuous[10] day of wine tasting.

Winery Vines
Twilight in the Vines

We walked out feeling sated and truly moved by the hospitality we’d been shown. The Jessie’s Grove and Spenker families welcomed us with open arms. And then, as if they night couldn’t get any better, we walked out to a stunning sunset surrounding the vineyard. An epic end to an epic day.

Spenker Winery
#sunsetforthewin

Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] #WBC16
[2] Because who doesn’t love goats? But seriously, I was also hoping for some chèvre…
[3] Read: the BEST one.
[4] Wanda and Greg are the owners of neighboring Bechthold Vineyards as well. Famous for their Cinsault grapes, it was named California’s best vineyard in 2014, and is also Lodi’s oldest at 128 years old.

Jessie's Grove Winery
Greg & Wanda at Jessie’s Grove

[5] It’s out of print and now virtually impossible to get. Keep your eyes peeled at tag sales and church book sales for me!
[6] See what I did there? #playonwords #panningforgold
[7] With a few more glasses of wine. Obviously.Wine Glass
[8] I figured the goats had to be there since we’d only seen a tortoise at Jessie’s Grove. I was right.
[9] I’ll be back.
[10] No but seriously, it’s hard work! I swear!