WARNING: This is a long one, so pour yourself a glass of vino and cuddle up for WineEsquire’s European adventure!
Husband had some business Across the Pond earlier this month, and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to tag along. It was one of the better ideas I’ve had thus far.
We started our trip at Bobby Van’s airport bar at JFK. Husband had a martini. I had a glass of bubbly. This was the start of a very consistent theme throughout our trip. We were in the running for an upgrade from American Airlines, but alas, they didn’t come through. We survived our journey in Coach with the help of some jumbo bottle red wine and Disney’s Aladdin.
Our hotel stay at the Bel & the Dragon was brilliant. We journeyed from Heathrow to Kingsclere in our white Ford Focus. All was well except the steering wheel was on the wrong side right side of the car and we had to drive on the wrong side right side of the road. We survived. Cue the wine.
The first evening we were tired so we decided to stay and eat at the Bel & The Dragon where we enjoyed a tasting of their private label wines produced by Olivier Leflaive, a longtime wine producer out of Burgundy, France. To start we paired the Bourgogne Blanc with some pink peppercorn squid and a poached duck egg with Serrano ham and avocado. The wine was light with a mineral finish. Not sweet or fruity, just like I like my whites. We followed this with a glass of the Bel and Dragon red burgundy which was also fairly light and a bit earthy.
For dinner I had Scottish scallops paired with a glass of bubbly Laurent-Perrier Brut. Bubbles and seafood are always a good combination. Husband had roast suckling pig. To pair with this I chose the Berry Brothers Good Ordinary Claret because, one, I really liked the name, two, because you can’t really go wrong with Claret, and three because our waiter Mark told us he only had one half bottle left and that it was extremely good. We were both very happy with this. It paired superb with the suckling pig and was a great drinker on its own as well.
All in all, this was probably the best “English” meal we’ve ever had in England. Great food, excellent wine and superb ambiance. The Bel and the Dragon is a 15th century inn that has been lovingly and beautifully restored. The quaint rooms came complete with a heavenly rainfall showerhead, a working heated towel rack, and complimentary whisky in the drawing room. To top it off, it was on a quaint little street in the center of the village of Kingsclere. The whole thing seemed to have come straight off a movie set. Serenely simple and absurdly charming.
From Kingsclere we moved on to Scotland. The whole point of this trip was for Husband and his foreign counterpart to taste various Scottish whisky offerings. One minor problem. Apparently the Scots have had a wee bit of a drinking and driving problem in the last few years, and now there’s a zero tolerance policy. Since I’m no whisky aficionado, I was volunteered to be their personal driver. I hate to admit it, but WineEsquire’s wrong-side driving skills leave something to be desired.. Husband would drive us to the distilleries before drinking had commenced. On both days, the trips to the distilleries were lovely, sunny and took place on easy to drive on highways. Without fail, as soon as WineEsquire got behind the wheel, the skies darkened, the heavens opened and the highways disappeared. Thankfully, whisky was drunk, bonds were formed, and we all survived.
After two days of tasting in Scotland and we found ourselves back on a flight to London where we were able to spend the next day and a half. With the rental car safely deposited back at the airport, I could once again relax and enjoy the trip. And drink some wine. It must be something about vacation, but I kept going back to bubbly. Our digs at St. Ermin’s were divine and on our first night we ended up at the hotel bar where I ordered a glass of Nyetimber. I thought it had something to do with New Year’s Eve. I was wrong. It was one of the best glasses of bubbly I’ve ever had. Tart, crisp with just a hint of apples. Effervescent bubbles that put a smile on my face. Regrettably, they don’t sell any on this side of the Atlantic yet. The only solution is to go back in the near future to drink some more!
Day two found us walking around London in the pouring rain, making our pilgrimage to Portobello Road. We eventually gave up on our quest to walk the city and Uber’d over to the famous Gordon’s Wine Bar. Unfortunately, so did approximately 1 million other people. Though tears were near, we ended up in a perfect little place where we enjoyed a French feast with a lovely bottle of Bordeaux. Having time to spare before our candlelight concert at St. Martin in the Fields, we wandered over to Neal’s Yard and had a glass or two at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a wine bar that serves only wine. Literally. No coffee. No whisky. Just wine. Impeccable! My glass of Eric Rodez Blanc de Noirs was perfect. A champagne made only from Pinot Noir grapes, it was another effervescent bubbly event that tickled my taste buds and confirmed my appreciation for all things French and bubbly.
By this time, our quick trip had come to an end. We had just a few hours before our flight home so we packed up our gear and headed to Kensington Palace to have High Tea at The Orangery. Not only is this little gem literally in Kate’s backyard, but it’s affordable, classy and simply gorgeous. Turns out we have Anna Maria Stanhope, the Duchess of Bedford, to thank for the tradition of high tea. It was the mid-1840s and the aristocracy had just transitioned from taking their main meal at noon to a bit later in the evening. Anna’s servants began sneaking her pots of tea with sandwiches and cakes to stave off that “sinking feeling” she’d get in the early afternoon. She began inviting her friends to join her, and it soon became a daily event for the upper class. Though Kate rang to say she was busy and couldn’t join us, the tea and cakes were delightful. So was the bubbly.
It’s never easy getting on the plane home. The thought of returning to a land where there is no Good Ordinary Claret, Nyetimber or Eric Rodez Blanc de Noirs is too depressing to even acknowledge. But it was certainly an adventure, and one I’ll not soon forget. Thanks for reading. Until the next bottle!
 How’d we end up with an American car over there?
 Not only from the flight, but we’d just spent the day traipsing around the countryside wandering around old Roman Ruins and mediaeval castles in our highly appropriate footwear. #sarcasm
 Turns out “pink peppercorn squid” is also known as fried calamari.
 a/k/a prosciutto.
 I obviously had some after I finished up my scallops and bubbly.
 Not taking into consideration, of course, classic fish n’ chips wrapped in newspaper.
 We were nestled in a quiet corner next to the open fireplace.
 There’s nothing worse than thinking the towel rack will actually warm your towels when in fact it’s ice cold. Why do most of them never function???
 You read that right. Complimentary whisky. In the Drawing Room. And it was good stuff too. Craggenmore and Jura. They may have had to refill the bottles after our first night…
 Some serious R&D.
 My apologies to all those who had to pass me on the wrong side right side. My average speed was around 25mph. Better slow than dead, right? #scaredycat
 A few F-bombs and trips around the roundabout later.
 Husband had a martini.
 Haven’t signed up for Uber yet? Click here and get your first ride (up to $15) free.
 A lovely little courtyard bubbling with activity. How is it that we don’t have anything like this where I live?
 This is also unavailable on this side of the world. I’m beginning to think we’re missing out on a lot of good bubbly. #getmeouttahere
 You know, my friend Kate, aka the Duchess of Cambridge.
 Hello, dinner!
Our day at Highclere Castle was epic.
Quick trip to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. #DaVinciCode
The same architect who designed Highclere was working on Big Ben and Parliament at the same time. And I thought I was busy.
Because every hotel lobby needs a photo of the Royal Wedding. Bravo, St.Ermins, Bravo.
Quick walk around Buckingham Palace.