Virtual Wine Tours on the Rise

Though we all enjoy traveling to the wine regions of the world, there are times that physical travel is not possible. Some of this may be due to work or health conflicts, but increasingly there are other issues that cause wine regions to close temporarily. Examples include the COVID pandemic, earthquakes in New Zealand, Chile and Napa; terrorist attacks in France, Spain and Germany, and wildfires and mudslides in California. Given these changing conditions, some wineries have started offering innovative virtual wine tours.

Virtual Tour

360 Virtual Vineyard Tour (Modified Photo Credit:

Three Types of Virtual Wine Tours

With the new virtual wine tours, tourists can tour a winery or wine region virtually by using their computer, tablet or smart phone. This can be accomplished with online videos, 360 photo tours, or 360 videos with VR glasses, and are designed to make the visitor feel as if they are really walking through the winery grounds. Currently there are three types of virtual wine tours offered by some wineries.

Engaging Online Videos showcase the winery and allow visitors to see the entrance to the winery, step into the tasting room, walk through the vineyards, see the cellars, wander the gardens, and see the wines. These can be fun and whimsical, or classy and elegant. Here are two good examples:

360 Photo Tours are simply photos of the estate filmed in a 360 format and then edited so that visitors can click on a link to take them into another room, such as the cellar, the wine library, the vineyard, gardens, etc. It is a technique that is often used by home sales websites, and is less expensive to produce than professional videos. Here is a good example :

360 Video Tours are filmed with a special 360 video camera and professionally edited. Virtual wine tourists are invited to don a pair of VR Glasses, which can be purchased inexpensively online, such as the Google Cardboard headset, so they can experience the 360 video as if they were actually there. Here are two examples:


NOTE: A longer version of this article was originally published at by Wine Industry Advisor at:

The “Terroir Whisperer” at Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron, Burgundy

(May 27, 2019) It was only a 45 minute drive from my hotel in Vougeot to the small village of Bouzeron in the Côte Chalonnaise where I had a 10am appointment at Domaine de Villaine. I was greeted by winemaker, Pierre de Villaine, a slim man with a goatee and calm grey eyes. Even since tasting his Aligote several years ago in Beaune, I have been wanting to meet him, because he has an intriguing reputation of being a “terroir whisperer,” with strong beliefs in the benefits of organic and biodynamic farming, as well as the use of numerology to impact wine quality and energy.


Entrance to Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron, Burgundy

About Domaine de Villaine

The winery was started in 1971 by Aubert de Villaine, also general manager of Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Located in the village of Bouzeron in the Cote de Chalonnaise, Domaine de Villaine is a classic small Burgundian winery famous for focusing on Aligote – Burgundy’s other white grape, as well as the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot noir. Today they produce around 110,000 bottles per year, and own 30 hectares, as well as hold a lease on 6 more hectares. They focus on the appellations of Bouzeron, Satenay and Rully.

In 2001, Aubert persuaded his grandson, Pierre de Villaine, to take over daily operations. At first reluctant to leave his job as a lawyer in Paris, Pierre eventually got “infected by the wine bug” and agreed to take over as General Manager. He became fascinated by organic and biodynamic farming, as well as ancient numerology.

A Unique Cellar Designed According to the Divine Number

Pierre explained that they expanded the winery in 2015 to include a state of the art cellar based on the numerology wisdom of the ancient Egyptians, as well as the writings of Leonardo da Vinci. The ceiling of the cellar is filled with graceful arches “designed to link the ground to the sky,” and built according to the divine number of God, which is 1.618. The Great Pyramid of Khufu was also designed according to this number. This was all news to me, and is the first wine cellar I’ve ever visited that has been designed in this fashion. However, I looked it up online, and discovered that this is well-documented. See more information HERE.


Barrel Cellar Designed According to the Divine Number

Winemaking at Domaine de Villaine

We toured the cellars first, and I was surprised to learn that Pierre ferments and ages all of his white wines, Aligote and Chardonnay, in large neutral oak foudres – meaning the whites are primarily unoaked with loads of pure fruit and terroir expression. He explained that the reason he does this is because the CO2 gases inside the foudres move around the wine forming an eternity pattern like the figure “8”, which is better for the wine and provides a higher level of energy.

Whites are produced in a non-interventionist fashion with a gentle pressing and then settling out in stainless steel tank overnight, before transfer to the large wooden foudres where they ferment with natural yeast and age on the gross lees for 12 to 14 months. In general he does not do battonage, but tops the tanks as needed. Minor additions of SO2 are made so that the total usually results in 25 to 35 mg/l – very low for white wine.

Pinot noirs are made in the traditional Burgundian fashion with fermentation in large open top oak barrels, pigeage twice a day, and then transfer to and aging in 30 to 40% new French oak for 12 to 18 months. Pierre said they usually do around 60% whole cluster. Again natural yeast is used, and very minimal SO2 — usually around 25 mg/l total for reds.

Before bottling both whites and reds spend time in a stainless steel blending tanks to marry wines from different plots and/or vineyards. This can last several weeks to several months. Then the wine is bottled and left to rest in bottle for a while before being sold around the world. Pierre said they export 65% of the wine to multiple countries, with the rest sold to restaurants and fine wine shops in France. In the US, Kermit Lynch is their importer.

Foudres for White Wines and Large Wooden Vats for Red Wines

Linking the Four Energies

Pierre spoke with passion about metaphysical properties that go into producing the wine. He explained that there are four energies that need to work together to allow both the fruit and the terroir to shine in the wine. These are: mineral energy, water energy, animal energy and vegetable energy. He said some of this is based on the ancient Celtic philosophies.

Though I did not understand a lot of his explanations, I could taste how everything seemed to come together in the wines. Both the whites and reds were vibrant, with amazing aromatics as well as ripe fruit and complex earthy terroir notes. Where oak was used, it was well-integrated, and all of the wines had both texture and energy. Following are my tasting notes and scores:

  • 2017 Bouzeron Aligote – very aromatic with lemon zest and minerals notes on palate with a touch of salinity; textured with a refreshing zippy acidity and a light finish. Delicate and delightful – 91
  • A side note on Aligote. Pierre explained that the only AOP for Aligote is Bouzeron. At the domain they use a 115 year old clone of Aligote that is pre-phylloxera. He has created a nursery to continue the cultivate the clone because the vine is already well-adapted to the terroir. It is “ massal selection,” and grows well on the hillside vineyards composed of limestone, clay and silt.
  • 2017 Cote Chalonnaise Les Clous Aime – 100% Chardonnay from multiple vineyards, pale straw in color with nose of honeysuckle, apple and lemon. Very fresh and juicy with enticing texture on the palate and zesty acidity. A wine of great energy and happiness – 92
  • 2017 Rully Les Saint Jacques – 100% Chardonnay from single vineyard. Aromatic floral nose, fresh kiwi on palate with a long juicy grapefruit finish and a touch of salt. Wow! This wine has lots of energy and personality. Pierre said it shows a “memory of the sea” that existed in the area in the past. Fell in love with this wine, but they were sold out – 95
  • 2016 Rully Premier Cru Les Margots – 100% Chardonnay from single vineyard. Ripe yellow apple on nose with creaminess on palate; rich and seductive with wet stone notes and a juicy high acid finish. Pierre said this wine is “digesting the fruit and letting the terroir come through…but the wine decides when it wants to do this.” – 92
  • 2017 Cote Chalonnaise La Digoine – 100% Pinot Noir from a monopoly vineyard. Very pale ruby color with a perfumed nose that reached out a hand to pull you down to a raspberry body with electric flashes of minerality. Light bodied and elegant but with exciting energy – very intriguing. 93
  • 2016 Rully Premier Cru Les Champs Cloux – 100% Pinot Noir from a single vineyard. Medium ruby purple; closed nose; black cherry and rhubarb palate; concentrated; tannic and young. Needs more time – 90 (Note: Pierre said I should come back to taste this wine the next day when it would have had the time to open up.)
  • 2016 Santenay Premier Cru Passetemps– ripe red maraschino cherry nose and palate; dipped in delicious dirt, with velvety tannins, rounded and concentrated body, and a long finish. A big and satisfying wine – 94
  • 2007 Aligote Domaine de Villaine – golden hue with pink tinge, butterscotch nutty nose, fresh and juicy on the palate with complex straw, oatmeal and a hint of white pepper on a long dry finish – 92

Two of My Favorite Wines at Domaine de Villaine

Concluding Thoughts

This was a delightful visit and tasting, and Pierre was the ultimate gentleman host. I requested to purchase two bottles of wine to take home. Since I had already purchased the Aligote at the Hospices de Beaune wine shop, I decided to opt for a Chardonnay and Pinot noir that I thought could fit in my suitcase (later had to pay a penalty to Air France because my suitcase was too heavy). Since the Rully Saint Jacques Chardonnay was sold out, I opted for the 2017 Cote Chalonnaise Les Clous Aime, which I found delightful — especially since Pierre told me it was the local name for a happy wine.

I had already fallen in love with the monopole 2017 Cote Chalonnaise La Digoine, so I purchased this as well. It is rare that you can find such a light-bodied Pinot noir with so much character and flavor. The last one I had was a very expensive Faiveley. Pierre validated my choice by telling me a story of a famous British wine critic who had come to dinner at the domaine years ago to dine with Aubert and his wife. Aubert served an old La Digoine with an old DRC Echezeaux Grand Cru. At the end of the dinner, the wine critic admitted he had mixed up the two wines and thought La Digoine was the Echezeaux.


The Winery Dog at Domaine de Villaine – Actually Quite Friendly!


Wine on Safari in South Africa – What is Available?

(January 2019) Going on safari to witness the majesty of the big five animals (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) is a dream held by many people, but for wine lovers there is also the question of “how is the wine on safari?” Fortunately in South Africa, the answer is “great,” because with more than 700 wineries in the country, South African safari lodges can afford to be generous with wine, and they are rightly proud to show off the delicious and well-balanced wines of their country.


Elephant Sighting on Safari in South Africa

I am lucky to have just returned from a great safari that I booked with Siyabona Travel Agency, based in South Africa. They handled all details flawlessly, including booking lodges, meals, transportation between lodges and flights within the country.


Giraffe Sighting on Safari in Kruger National Park

Wine at Imbali Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park

My favorite safari lodge was Imbali, located in Kruger National Park, where the hospitality is warm and friendly, and wine, beer, and cocktails are complimentary. Indeed, in my luxury suite complete with a comfortable bed draped with mosquito netting, there was a small refrigerator stocked with South African sauvignon blanc and pinotage, as well as all types of beer, sodas, and spirits. Guests can help themselves to a drink in one of the 12 private luxury cabanas this lodge provides, and then soak in their private plunge pool on the deck, while overlooking the river to see elephants, impala, and wildebeest foraging nearby.

Beautiful Bed and Private Plunge Pool at Imbali Safari Lodge

During lunch and the three course gourmet dinner each evening, a selection of 10 to 12 different South African wines, including sparkling, were available. Therefore during the three days I was there, I was able to sample a little of each of the wines and found them to be refreshing with crisp acidity, fruit-focused with some minerality, and lower alcohol – around 12%. My favorites were the dry chenin blancs, fruity pinotages, and crisp sauvignon blancs. I was also impressed with their very generous pours – usually around 6 ounces. Since the weather was hot, they often served white and rose wines with ice on the side, which I thought was a nice touch.


Wine Served with Ice on Side During Hot Months in South Africa

Elephant Plains Lodge – Wine Served in a Silver Chalice with Rhinos

The second lodge we visited was Elephant Plains, which was equally luxurious but with more discrete professional service, rather than the overflowing friendliness of Imabli. Alas they also charged for wine, but the prices were very reasonable – as I found throughout South Africa. A glass of wine was usually $3 to $5, and a bottle ranged from $15 to $25. This was also the case in restaurants in Capetown. I love a country that doesn’t try to gouge consumers with ridiculous wine prices, and South Africa is one of the few places that makes wine affordable on-premise.  Due to this, I saw many people drinking wine in restaurants and bars during my visit, which is a positive way to highlight their unique and delicious cuisine –often featuring exotic farm-raised meats such as warthog, kudo, impala stew, ostrich, and buffalo.


Lunch is Served Poolside at Elephant Plains Resort in South Africa

However the best part of wine at Elephant Plains Resort is the silver chalice they use to serve it on safari. It is lovely to be standing near your guide watching rhinos in the distance at a watering hole, and holding a chilled pewter wine glass filled with refreshing South African sauvignon blanc. Now that is a wine experience!

Drinking Wine and Watching Rhinos on Safari in South Africa

Gin & Tonic – A Common Safari Sundowner Cocktail

I must admit that due to temperatures hovering in the 90’s F (32 Celsius) most days that I often indulged in a gin and tonic for a “sundowner” – the term the South Africans use for happy hour. They also specialize in many types of gin, as well as unusual tonics, including pink or blue tonic. Our guide told us that gin and tonic was used as a means to ward off malaria in the past because mosquitoes do not like the taste of a person who drinks “quinine” used in tonic. Though I was taking malaria pills, I decided that it didn’t hurt to adopt the old fashioned method of drinking tonic water – even though medical doctors now say it will not help, because you must drink 67 liters of tonic per day for it to work!

Wine, Gin Tonic and Appetizers on Safari at Sunset

The Alluring Rhythm of a Safari Day Schedule

One of my favorite aspects of going on safari was the daily schedule. It felt like going back in time to a more gentile period when nature and the temperature ruled the day. The schedule is based on animal time, so you venture out of the lodge in the early morning and evening when the animals come out to drink water, eat, and play, and then sleep or relax during the heat of the day. It is a gentle rhythm that is addictive, and I find I miss it now that I am back into my regular exhausting work schedule. Here is the timetable that is followed by most luxury safari lodges:

  • 5:00am – someone knocks on your door to wake you up
  • 5:15am – coffee and biscotti served in the main lodge
  • 5:30- 8:30 – game drive with a coffee break mid-point, usually laced with Amarula – a South African liquor that tastes like Irish Cream –yum!
  • 8:30 – 9:30 – breakfast back at the lodge, usually a generous buffet
  • 9:30 – 1:00pm – relax (have a massage, exercise, take a nap, read a book, etc.) No television to distract and very spotty cell phone service, so you can truly relax
  • 1:00 – 2:00 – lunch, usually elaborate buffet with wine
  • 2:00 – 3:30 – relax some more
  • 3:30 – 4:00 – high tea with sandwiches, cakes, cookies, etc.
  • 4:00 – 7:00 – game drive with a cocktail break midpoint, where you have a choice of wine, beer or gin & tonic
  • 7:00 – 8:00 – relax, have a glass of sherry or juice handed to you with a chilled hand towel by a smiling server when you return to the lodge
  • 8:00 – 10:00 – gourmet three course dinner with wine and candlelight

Kudo Venison Steak with South African Pinotage and Rose Wine

Pizzato Winery – Waterfalls and Cool Climate Merlot in Southern Brazil

(June 2018) Pizzato Winery is halfway up a very windy road in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Southern Brazil. I had to hold onto the side of the car as we twisted and turned around mountain bends, with long drops into a tree filled canyon below. Finally we arrived at a small tasting room perched on the side of a hill, with a large deck overlooking a magnificent range of mountains with a long white waterfall in the distance. To the left were rows of vineyards stretching out across the hillside and fading into the distance. What a beautiful and magical view!


View of Vineyards and Waterfall at Pizzato Winery

A Tasting of Twenty Pizzato Wines

A few minutes later, Flavio Pizzato, Chief Winemaker and Manager, arrived to greet us. After spending a few more minute gazing at the view and taking photos, we were invited inside the tasting room to take a seat at a high table filled with over 20 bottles of wine.

“They told me that I should limit the tasting to six wines,” said Flavio with a grin, “but I make so many wines I thought I would show you some of them, and let you decide.  They are all my children.”

Well, how could I respond to that? It was impossible to deny one child over another, so seeing that a spittoon was sitting on the table, I agreed to taste them all. Flavio smiled broadly and launched into an animated tale about the history of the winery.


Flavio Pizzato (right) with his Father

About Pizzato Winery

Like many of the wineries in Southern Brazil, Pizzato was established by Northern Italian immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1880’s. In the beginning they grew grapes on high pergolas trellises, just like in Italy, and they mainly made wine for their own consumption.  It wasn’t until the 1940’s that they became serious grape growers, planting vitis vinifera vines and selling the grapes to other wineries. However in 1998 Flavio and his brothers and sisters decided to establish a professional winery and today they farm 45 hectares of grapes and produce around 280,000 bottles of wine per year. They make 25 different wines, and impressively sell 15% through their cellar door direct to consumers visiting the region.


Flavio Telling the Story of His Wines

But Your Sign Says “Pizza Too”

“I like the name of your winery, “I told Flavio. “It is easy for consumers to pronounce and remember.”

“Well, it is the family name,” replied Flavio, “but I found it can be a bit challenging when I’m doing professional tastings at trade shows.  Several times I’ve had people approach me and ask where the pizza is. One time when I explained that I didn’t have any pizza, the person responded, “but your sign says ‘pizza too!’”

A Focus on Cool Climate Merlot

Though the Serra Gaucha region of Brazil is primarily noted for its excellent sparkling wine production, its second most famous wine is cool climate Merlot.  I have to admit that this came as a bit of a shock for me, because traditionally most people don’t plant Merlot in the same place they plant chardonnay and pinot noir grapes to make sparkling wine.

However Merlot from this region tastes nothing like any other Merlot I’ve tasted.  It doesn’t have the ripe plush tannins of California or the concentration of the Right Bank, but instead is bursting with black cherry, anise, earth, crisp acidity, and has a more elegant streamlined mouthfeel with medium body.  In a blind tasting, I would be hard-pressed to guess it was Merlot because it is so different.  However, it is delicious and very food friendly. Perhaps it is a cousin to some of the few Italian merlots I’ve experienced, though these are difficult to find outside of Italy.

Pizzato Winery is famous for their merlot, and I was able to taste several of them that were excellent. The majority had very light oak, but the more expensive ones were aged in 100% French oak.


Some of Pizzato’s Award Winning Wines

Highlights from the Tasting

The tasting was a lot of fun, because Flavio kept up a non-stop conversation as he enthused over all of his children. In addition to the Pizzato brand, he also produces an entry level wine called Fausto that is more fruit forward, lighter bodied and less expensive. We tasted everything from chardonnay and semillon to tannat and sparkling wines. Following are some of my favorites:

  • Pizatto Semillon 2018 – very fresh with grapefruit, minerality, and a textured medium body. 91 points.
  • Pizzato Merlot 2014 – Black cherry, black plum spice, textured tannins, medium-bodied, with a crisp acid finish and a hint of black licorice. 91 points
  • Pizzato Concentus Gran Reserva 2014 – a complex blend of merlot, tannat, and cabernet sauvignon aged 11 months in American and French Oak.  It reminded me of a tannic red Rioja, and was quite enjoyable. The Latin term Concentus means concert or harmony. 93 points
  • Pizzato Merlot Single Vineyard DNA99 2012 – very luxurious wine with rich allspice nose of toasty oak, black plum, and ripe berry in a very concentrated body with fine-grained tannins, crisp acidity and a very long finish. The wine is perfectly balanced, and is only made in years where this special merlot vineyard achieves a similar ripeness to the vintage of 1999  – thus the name DNA99.  94 points
  • Pizzato Brut Rose Vintage 2016 – yeasty nose with dried cherry, lemon, and complex minerality. 87% pinot noir and 13% chardonnay. Made in the traditional method with 17 months on lees.  90 points
  • Pizzato Nature Vintage 2014 – a sparkling wine with a surprisingly fruity nose of white peach and citrus. Very refreshing with high acid and long finish.  Aged 40 months on lees. 91 points.
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Pizzato Sparkling Wine Line-Up

Last Night in Rio de Janeiro with Pizzato Chardonnay and Lobster

Whenever I travel I always try to drink the local wine. So on my last day in Brazil, I took a 2 hour airplane flight from Porte Alegre (the closest airport to the Serra Gaucha wine region in Southern Brazil) and flew north to much warmer Rio de Janeiro, where I had dinner at Sa Restaurant just across the street from Copacabana Beach. Since it was winter time in Brazil (June), I left the cool mid 50 – 60 F weather of Serra Gaucha to arrive in balmy Rio where the temperature hovered in the mid 80’s F. After a long walk on the beach, a nap, and a shower, I decided to eat at Sa, because it was located in my hotel (Miramar by Windsor) and had good reviews.

After looking at the dinner menu, I decided to order a local specialty called Brazilian Slipper Lobster, of which I had never heard.  It turned out to be absolutely delicious and similar to langostino, and was served with a side of truffle risotto. Given my entre, I searched the wine list for a Brazilian white wine, and found a predominance of wines from Chile. However, since I was in Brazil, I needed to drink Brazilian wine. Eventually I found a half bottle of Pizzato Chardonnay 2017, which was fresh and crisp with bright notes of lemon and green apple, crafted in the style of Chablis. It was a perfect pairing, and a great last dinner in Brazil. I enjoyed the wine and food while gazing out the window at children playing along the sidewalk and the waves gently embracing the sands of Copacabana Beach.


Pizzato Chardonnay with Brazilian Slipper Lobster and Truffle Risotto

Fun Facts about Brazilian Wine

If your only reason to go to Brazil is to play on white sandy beaches and drink caipirinhas, think again. Instead consider heading further south to the Brazilian wine region of Serra Gaucha, about 375 miles north of the Uruguay border in a cool hilly region that looks like Northern Italy. Indeed this region was settled by immigrants from the Veneto and Trentadoc regions of Northern Italy in the 1880’s, and, of course, they planted grapes and made wine. This region of Brazil also has many excellent Italian restaurants, as well as Brazilian steakhouses to celebrate the fact that this is indeed gaucho, or Brazilian cowboy country.


Brazilian Vineyard with Winter Vines and Waterfall in Background

Recently I was invited to visit the Serra Gaucha region for a week by Wines of Brazil, where I toured a variety of wineries and tasted over 140 wines. While there I learned some fun, and rather amazing, facts about Brazilian Wine:

  • 1500’s – Portuguese: Wine grapes were first brought to Brazil by the Portuguese in the 1500’s, but didn’t thrive very well because of the humid climate of Rio de Janeiro. Therefore, they later imported Vitis Labrusca grapes from the Azores, which were resistant to fungus, and used these to make table wine.
  • 50% Grape Juice: Because of the large number of labrusca vineyards, 50% of the harvest in Brazil is used for grape juice production, which is made in a very natural fashion with no sugar added.
  • 1880’s – Italians: It wasn’t until the 1880’s that northern Italian immigrants settled in the cool southern part of Brazil in the Serra Gaucha region that vitis vinifera grapes were planted again to make quality wine.
  • Sparkling Wine is King: Due to the cool climate, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes thrive, and they produce some delicious sparkling wines using the Méthode Champenoise as well as the charmant method. Sparkling wine comprises 80% of the Brazilian wine market.
  • Moscato: Brazilians also enjoy sweet wine, so they make semi-sweet and sweet sparkling Moscato, as well as still and dessert wines with this fragrant grape.
  • Experimenting with Red Grapes: Now other regions of Brazil are beginning to make wine and experiment with red grapes. Highlights include Merlot, Marselan, and Cabernet Franc in the south, and Syrah and Grenache in the warmer north. There are also many types of Italian red grapes used to produce Brazilian wine, such as Teroldego and Ancellotta.
  • Six Major Wine Regions: Today there are five new wine regions in addition to Serra Gaucha. They are Campanha and Serra Do Sudeste further south, and Planalto Catarinese and Campos de Cima de Serra a little further north. Vale do Sao Francisco is in the far north near the equator, where they actually have two harvests per year because it is so warm.
  • One DO and Four GI’s: Brazil is adopting the European quality system of appellations, and has recognized one DO (Domination of Origin) region called Vale dos Vinhedos. This is where the many of the original Italian immigrants settled, near the town of Bento Goncalves. There are four GI’s (Geographical Indicator) surrounding the DO: Pinto Bandeira, Monte Belo, Farroupilha and Altos Montes.
  • 1100 Wineries and 79,000 Hectares: Today Brazil has over 1100 wineries, many of which are small family domains. Total vineyard acreage is around 195,000 or 79,000 hectares of grapes.
  • Fresh, Fruity and Fun: Brazilian wines are produced with a focus on showcasing the fruit and not using too much oak. The wines are also very fresh with higher acidity and lower alcohol – more similar to Northern Italian styles. Due to the sparkling wine emphasis, Brazilian wines are used to celebrate and have fun in life – -just like the Brazilian culture.
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Map of Brazilian Wine Regions. Photo Credit: Wines of Brazil

Getting to Brazilian Wine Country in Serra Gaucha

The major airport in the Serra Gaucha wine region is Porte Alegre (POA). There are several connecting flights each day from the large international airports of Rio de Janeiro or San Paulo. I arrived into Rio on Delta Airlines, and then took their partner airline, GOL, to Porte Alegre – an easy two hour flight. Once in Porte Alegre it is necessary to rent a car or book a driver to take you to Bento Gonçalves, the main city in the Serra Gaucha wine region.  It actually has a welcome wine barrel arch, and has several tasting rooms in the downtown area, including Aurora Winery, which is the largest in Brazil. Bento Gonçalves is a small city of around 100,000 people with good restaurants, friendly people, and wineries and vineyards all around it. The town was named after a Brazilian military leader who was much loved in the south of Brazil.


Hotel & Spa do Vinho in Brazilian Wine Country

Hotels and Restaurants in Bento Goncalves

A quick check on TripAdvisor will show you a list of over 30 hotels, B&B and specialty lodging in the area. I stayed about 15 minutes outside the town in the very fancy yet affordable, Hotel & Spa do Vinho (see photo above). It has excellent service, is incredibly beautiful, and has a good restaurant and spa. It is also situated in the middle of the vineyards and is across the street from two famous wineries – Miolo and Lidio Carraro. This is a prime location to visit wineries, because the hotel is situated in the Vale dos Vinhedos, which means Valley of Vineyards. It is the first and only DO appellation in Brazil, and is surrounded by some of the oldest and most prestigious wineries.

In terms of restaurants, I was able to enjoy four local restaurants, and they were all excellent:

Ipiranga Steakhouse – classic Brazilian steakhouse in casual setting with great wine displays on the walls.  Open kitchen allowing you to see the meat on the grill – fascinating. The meal begins with fresh green salad (I loved the salads in Brazil) and the “can’t stop eating” cheese bread balls, which are a local specialty.  Then non-stop skewers of meat are presented at the table by professional servers, with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and even whole stakes of filet mignon (see photo below). We enjoyed the meal with a nice bottle of Casa Valduga Merlot, and dessert was a small glass of sweet sparkling muscato wine called Cave Amadeu from Family Geisse Winery.

Mamma Gemma Restaurant – a very elegant Italian restaurant with white tablecloths and a beautiful view of a lake outside the large picture windows.  Excellent Italian dishes arrive non-stop at the table until you cannot move.  We had the complete menu which includes a fresh green salad (see photo below) several different pasta dishes, along with chicken, beef, fish, Brazilian cheese bread, and grape ice cream dessert with a small cup of chocolate fudge called Brigadeiro (see photo below).

Casa Di Paolo Restaurant – a casual local chain restaurant with simple décor and friendly service. It focuses on Brazilian-Italian fare with non-stop pasta and meat plates arriving at the table, along with fresh salad and breads. They also serve the delicious pasta soup, which is a specialty of the region (see photo below). We enjoyed lunch with wines from Goes Winery.

Valle Rustico Restaurant – this restaurant is a gourmand’s dream with artistically arranged small plates of very fresh, local, organic ingredients. The staff provides an explanation of each plate when they bring it to your table, and describe the many unique vegetables and spices that are used in the dishes. Several include heirloom foods, such as an ancient corn, that they are trying to preserve. The décor is actually rather casual, set in an old farmhouse with wooden beams, antiques, and pottery plates, but the service and food is of Michelin star quality. Truly a unique restaurant, focusing on local Brazilian cuisine – not to be missed. We enjoyed the meal with wines from Don Guerino Winery.

Local Wineries to Visit

During the 5 days I stayed in Bento Goncalves, I visited 9 wineries, listed below. Each of these visits will be described in separate posts on this blog. Driving distance from my hotel ranged from 2 minutes to 45 minutes to arrive at the winery tasting rooms.  All of my visits were organized as part of a business trip by Wines of Brazil. There are many other local wineries near-by with friendly signs stating they are open for tourists to drop in and taste delicious Brazilian wines.

  • Cave Geisse Winery
  • Pizzato Winery
  • Casa Valduga Winery
  • Miolo Winery
  • Lidio Carraro Winery
  • Salton Winery
  • Casa Perini Winery
  • Aurora Winery
  • Luiz Argenta Winery (with great restaurant!)

I have to admit that one of the best parts of visiting Brazilian wine country was getting a chance to taste some many delicious sparkling wines – their icon wine product. I lost count of the number of times each day that we toasted to one another with a glass of Brazilian bubbles! Brazil truly is the land of fun and celebration – and their sparkling wine is a great testament to this.


One of Many Toasts with Brazilian Bubbles


Don’t Shake That Sherry at Bodega Delgado Zuleta

(June 2018) Bodega Delgado Zuleta is located on the outskirts of Sanlucar, Spain in an industrial area with plentiful parking. They are one of the largest sherry wineries in Spain, and are the producer of the famous La Goya Manzanilla brand. Their partner winery, Barbiana, is also housed at this complex. Established in 1744, the winery has over 1,000 hectares of vineyards, and produces millions of bottles of wine each year.

I arrived in the afternoon and was met by Eva Jimenez who is a sherry expert living in the area, and also a great tour guide and educator with perfect English speaking skills. She provided a tour of the complete facility, and I was impressed at the many educational posters and sections they had set up in the winery.  It is a great place for someone who is trying to learn about sherry grapes and production.


One of Many Educational Display at Bodega Delgado Zuleta

Don’t Shake That Sherry!

Eva told me a funny and tragic story about a barrel of sherry with flor on top that was set-up as a display. She said she was explaining to a group of visitors how flor is a tiny community of living creatures that grows on top of the wine to protect it and provide it with its distinctive taste, when a man came forward and started shaking the barrel.

“I lunged forward and screamed at him to stop,” she said, “but it was too late. He had mixed all of the flor into the wine and it took months for flor community in the barrel to restore itself.”

“How awful,” I said.  “Why did he do it?”

She shrugged.  “I’m not sure, but I think he thought he was trying to help the wine. Now we no longer leave a single barrel on display, and instead use this more contained version with triple barrels.” (see photo)


Three Contained Sherry Barrels with Flor

Recycling Sherry Barrels with In-house Cooper

One of the fascinating aspects of this visit was the cooperage. I have never visited a sherry cooperage before, and learned that it is a place of the utmost recycling. This is because they must use old barrels to age the sherry. Therefore, they are continually tearing apart old barrels and making new ones. I was able to watch the cooper performing his tasks for a while, and then he stopped and led us to a stack of old dusty sherry barrels in the back of the warehouse.


Making Recycled Sherry Barrels

Unlocking the Ancient Sherry Barrels

Eva explained that this unique stack of black sherry barrels held the private reserve wines of the Zuleta family.  I watched as the cooper unlocked several barrels, and then using a llenenzia, he deftly subtracted some sherry and poured it into wine glasses. We were allowed to taste an amontillado and cream sherry from these ancient casks. The cream sherry was especially delicious with Pedro Ximenez grapes added to the blend.

Private Tasting at Bodega Delgado Zuleta

At the conclusion of the tour, Eva invited me to sit down and taste several different wines.  She also showed me photos of La Goya, who was a famous singer from the early 1900’s.  Highlights from the tasting were:

La Goya – very fresh and elegant with notes of white flowers, green apple, almonds, and a hint of salt. La Goya is always aged 6 to 7 years in cask.  I was surprised at the yellow color of the wine, and the strong floral notes. It was one of my favorite manzanillas on the trip.

Quo Vadis Amontillado (40 years) VORS – Very Old Rare Sherry. Truly delicious with nutty notes, toffee, great acidity, mouthwatering finish.

Monteagvdo Muscatel – tasted liked white chocolate, caramel apples, and cream toffee. Very much a decadent dessert wine.


Private Tasting at Bodega Delgado Zuleta in Sanlucar, Spain

The Quaint Seaside Village of Chipiona

On the drive back to my hotel, I stopped in the quaint seaside village of Chipiona. It has a lovely walking trail along the ocean, a lighthouse, and many tiny cobblestone streets filled with shops and restaurants. In the future it would be a nice place to stay for several nights.


Sea Walk at Chipiona in Spain


Narrow Streets of Chipiona with Shops and Restaurants


Tapas Bar in Chipiona, Spain

“Wine That Travels” – A Short History of Sherry

(June 2018) It was so exciting to finally arrive in the land of sherry – that famous fabled wine that has traveled the world. We caught an 11:30 flight on Iberia Airlines from Madrid to Jerez, and by 1pm were already departing the small airport in our Hertz rental car. As we drove towards our resort hotel on the ocean just south of Sanlucar, we passed rolling hills covered in bright yellow sunflowers and green verdant vineyards filled with palomino and pedro ximenez grapes.  The blue sky and warm temperatures in the mid 70’s was welcome after the cooler temperatures of Madrid.

After checking into our resort, the Hotel Elba Costa Ballena, my daughter and I headed to the pool and spa, then later out to dinner at a restaurant along the Bajo de Guia in Sanlucar where I ordered a glass of chilled manzanilla sherry (see below).  Gazing out a the bay, I couldn’t help but think of all of the ships carrying sherry that had departed from this port and further south in Cadiz over the centuries.  The history of sherry is one of the most fascinating wine stories in the world.  Following is a brief timeline, based on the history provided by Wines of Sherry.

A Brief Timeline of Sherry History

1100BC – Vines are brought to Spain by the Phoenicians, who called the region “Xera.” Ancient amphora for wine storage have been found near the city of Cadiz.

138BC– Romans come to the region and rename the area “Ceret”. Lucius Columella, born in Cadiz, writes the famous ancient book “De ru Rustica” about how to plant vines and make wine.

100’s BC – Romans began to export the local wine to Rome and other places. It becomes known as the “wine that travels,”  however it was not because it was fortified (distillation was not invented until 800’s). Instead the Romans covered the wine with different substances to protect it from oxygen, such as olive oil, ashes, honey, and resins.

711AD – The Moors come to Spain, and call the area the “Land of Sherish.” Even though the Koran prohibited alcohol, the region was allowed to continue to produce grapes and wine, which was used for raisins to feed the troops and medicine.

800’s – Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan, an Arabic alchemist, designs the alembic pot still to allow distillation of alcohol into spirits. This allowed sherry brandy to be developed, but in the beginning it was primarily used for medicine.

1264 – King Alfonso of Castille reclaims Spain. Exports of sherry wine to England increase when Henry 1 proposes a bartering agreement to trade English wool for sherry. Around the same time, the major grape used to produce sherry was renamed “Palomino” after a military general.

1492 – Sherry voyages to America with Columbus (along with Madeira)

1519 – Magellean sets sail from Sanlucar with “417 wine skins and 257 kegs” of sherry, making sherry the first wine to travel around the world.

1600’s– Sherry begins to be fortified with spirits (brandy) so it will keep better on long sea voyages. The practice is reputed to have been invented by the Dutch and adopted by the British and Portuguese. Sherry, madeira and port benefit greatly from this method.

1770’s  – The solera system is created, based on British consumer desires for a consistent taste and style each year for the different types of sherries. The system also allows the wine to age much longer.

1932 – Sherry achieves DO (Designations of origin) status in Spain

1970’s – Vineyards are overplanted in sherry and prices plummet

2012 to present – There is a resurgence of interest in sherry wines, as international sommeliers and wine buyers rediscover the excellent quality and value of sherry wines. The wide variety of flavors and styles, ranging from bone dry to extremely sweet, makes sherry a very versatile treat!


Vega Sicilia – The Ultimate Iconic Winery of Spain

(June 2018) There are certain times in life when you taste a wine that is so magnificent that it transports you into another century. That is what happened to me the first time I tasted Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva a few years ago. We were attending a pool party at a friend’s house, when one of the guests approached me with an open bottle of 1986 Vega Sicilia. “My company is relocating me to Europe,” he said, “but I cannot bring my wine collection, so I’ve decided to share some of my favorite bottles with friends here tonight.”


Bottles of Vega Sicilia Unico

Of course, I had heard of Vega Sicilia – considered by many to be the top wine of Spain – but I had never tasted it. “Thank you,” I said with enthusiasm, and watched as he deftly poured one ounce into my glass. It was a dark ruby with hints of garnet on the rim, and the bouquet jumped out of the glass, enveloping me in spice, leather and dried black plum. The palate was electrifying with exquisite acidity, textured tannins, black tea with a smoky note, and a very long mesmerizing finish. That one small taste of the 1986 Vega Sicilia Unico spawned a dream to one-day visit the estate.

Fast forward five years to the Wine Spectator Experience in New York City in the fall of 2017. There I bumped into Elisa Alvarez, co-owner of Vega Sicilia, who kindly invited me to visit the next time I was in Spain.

Arriving at Vega Sicilia

So, it finally happened! On June 13, 2018, I picked up at Hertz rental car at the Madrid airport with my 21-year old daughter, and we drove the two hours north to Vega Sicilia. The drive was beautiful, as we snaked through deep valleys and hills on the main freeway, and then eventually turned west to meander along smaller roads with fields of red poppies and ancient castles dotting the way.

There are no signs announcing the entrance of the famous winery, so a good GPS system is necessary. Making a sharp right turn down a narrow hedge lined road that ended in an iron gate with a guard shack, I wondered, at first, if my GPS had led me to the wrong location.

“Hola,” I said to the guard, “Esta Vega Sicilia?”


“Tengo una reserva para las doce.”


So I told him, and he consulted a ledger in the office. “Bienvenido,” he said and slowly the iron gates swung open. I continued to drive along a narrow twisting road, lined with beautiful trees and hundreds of white rose bushes in full bloom. To the right we saw a Japanese garden, while on the left there rose a two-story very long peach colored brick building.


The Driveway at Vega Sicilia Lined with Roses

After parking in a small parking lot, another guard met us and escorted us to a wooden door in the large brick building. There we were warmly greeted and invited to relax until Elisa and her husband, Pablo, arrived, along with the rest of our group. Once everyone was present, Elisa led us on a three-hour very in-depth tour of the estate, concluding with a tasting in their beautiful old manner house filled with antiques and exquisite artwork. It was there that Pablo joined us again to see how we were enjoying the wines.


Part of our Group with Elisa and Pablo Alvarez

The Green Land of Saint Cecilia

Elisa began our tour by explaining the mean of the name “Vega Sicilia.” Apparently the term “Vega” means “green vegetation or green land,” whereas the term “Sicilia” is in honor of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians.

“Many people think our winery is located on Island of Sicily in Italy,” explained Elisa, with a smile. “But as you clearly know, we are in the Ribera del Duero DO of Spain.”

The winery was established in 1864 by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who trained in Bordeaux and wanted to start a great winery in Spain. He selected the Ribera del Duero region because it was warmer and at a higher altitude than Rioja. The winery sits at around 750 meters and has a continental climate. The area achieved DO status in 1982.

The Vineyards of Vega Sicilia

Vega Sicilia has a total of 1000 hectares, with 200 hectares planted to vines. There are 50 separate vineyards, with 90% planted to tempranillo. The terrain is quite diverse with 19 different types of soil, including some limestone. Elisa told us they have been practicing organic farming for the past 15 years, but are not certified. The vines are on a combination of different trellis systems, including small bush vines and some VSP. There is no irrigation, unless it is a new vineyard – in which case, it is only irrigated for the first year.

The estate used to be a self-sufficient farm with many crops and workers living on the property. They still maintain a poly culture, with more than 50% of the property covered with forests and a collection of 300 different types of trees.

Interestingly the best vineyards, including Unico, are situated on north facing slopes, so they receive less sunlight in the hot afternoons and also have better drainage. The word Unico means “Unique,” and the Don named the wine this because he felt it was very unique for Spain, because it usually has some Bordeaux grapes in the tempranillo blend. For example, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and merlot are often part of the blend. We were told that the Unico vineyard blocks have more limestone and less organic material than other vineyards.

Major challenges in the vineyard include “esca,” which is an extreme form of eutypa. Elisa said they are using 41B and 110R rootstock to help combate this as well as other types of rootstock. They have also created and patented a spray made from garlic, vanilla and other ingredients to spray on wood cuts to help alleviate esca. Frost is also an big issue, and so they have purchased large wind machines at 50,000 euros each.

They do not harvest the vines until they are 10 to 12 years in age. “Vines are like kids,” stated Elisa, “and we believe it takes about 25 years before they are good quality. At 65, they are very good quality, but less quantity.” Harvest is usually around 22 hectoliters per hectare (approx. 2 tons per acre), but Unico is only one ton per acre.

There is also a small plot with vines that are over 100 years old. These are primarily a mix of different varietals, and they are trying to preserve this block.

State of the Art Unico Winery

We took a walking tour of the estate, and I was surprised to see how big it is. Elisa told us there were five different wineries there to produce their various wine brands. We toured the winery where Unico wine is made. The cellar was spotless with very expensive, top of the line equipment.


Impressive Wooden Foudres at Vega Sicilia

All grapes are hand-harvested in 12 pound white plastic bins. They use a Pellenc to crush and destem, and then the must gently transported to French oak foudres with double insulation. They allow natural yeast to carry out the fermentation, but have a back-up batch ready just in case of a slow or stuck fermentation. Temperature ranges from 26 – 28 degrees C, and the whole process takes about 10 – 14 days, with gentle pumpovers.

After fermentation, they use a basket press and then transfer the wine to 100% new French oak 225 liters barrels for 18 months. Next the wine is moved to used oak barrels for another 18 months, and then, finally to large used oak foudres. Altogether Unico spends four years in oak, and then another 5 to 6 years bottle aging. Unico is always released 9 to 10 years after harvest date, and is considered to be one of the longest aging red still wines in the world.


Barrel Cellar at Vega Sicilia for Unico

Onsite Cooperage – Toasting the Barrels

We also had the opportunity to visit the cooperage onsite and to witness one of the coopers toasting a barrel. It was fascinating, and smelled wonderful. Elisa gave us each a small piece of barrel stave with the imprint of Vega Sicilia.


Toasting a Barrel at Vega Sicilia’s Cooperage

Grand Tasting in the Manor House

The wine tasting at Vega Sicilia was one of the most elegant I’ve ever experienced. Once we were all gather in the beautiful old mansion near the fire place, Elisa opened a bottle of 2008 Pol Roger champagne and we all enjoyed a toast together. Later Pablo stopped by to see how we were enjoying the wines.


Seated Tasting at Vega Sicilia Manor House

Next we tasted several wines from their other properties, including Oremus in Tokay, Hungary, Pintia from Toro and Macan Classico from Rioja. All were excellent, but I was more interested in the wines from the property – and they were amazing:

Vega Sicilia Alion 2014 – 100% tempranillo aged in 100% French oak for 12 – 14 months. Savory palate with spice, chocolate and red cherry. Quite enjoyable. 92, $65

Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2013 – balsamic, black fruit, earthy and savory. 95% tempranillo and 5% merlot, 70% American oak. Very long and delicious. I continued to enjoy this wine at several locations in Spain. Always good. 94, $200

Vega Sicilia Unico 2006 – 94% tempranillo, 6% cabernet sauvignon. 6 years in barrel/vats, 4 years in bottle. Black cherry, tar, tea, earthy notes. Great acidity; well integrated oak, very long and luxurious. Truly mesmerizing, and one of the great wines of the world. 96 points, $570


Vega Sicilia Wines Heavily Allocated

As we tasted, several guests asked Elisa about their marketing and sales strategy. She explained that they sell via distributor and to some private clients. The wine is completely allocated, and they require advance payment before shipping. Currently they are in 102 countries, with 40% allocated for Spain. They also distribute DRC and Petrus in Spain, and partner with Gaja in Italy.


Vineyard in Ribera del Duero with Red Poppies

As we departed, I look around the beautiful property and felt a great sense of gratitude for Elisa and Pablo in welcoming us to their winery. They are carrying on the tradition of one of the truly great and extremely special wine estates in the world. In doing so, they are offering employment to many people, preserving the land, and creating great works of art in their wine.

Postscript: Several days later, I  discovered that my iPhone made a video of the day. Here it is below:

The Best Wine Sales Person in the World – from Vietnam!

“Hey, lady, do you want to buy some wine?”

A female voice with a Vietnamese accent called out to me, and I glanced over the side of our boat to see a small woman in a bright orange shirt holding a bottle of wine. She was standing up in one of the many small “grocery store” boats that we had seen sailing around Halong Bay all day. These boats were filled with different types of food, drink and household supplies to sell to the tourist boats and locals who lived on boats in the Bay.


Lady Selling Wine from Boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam

It was day three of our ten-day culinary tour of Vietnam, and we had spent the previous two days attending a cooking school in Hanoi and sampling amazing street food. This morning we left Hanoi for the 2 hour drive to Halong Bay, passing rice fields filled with water buffalo along the way (yes, just like the movies!). After boarding our boat, complete with private sleeping rooms and a crew of five, we spent the day sailing amongst the amazing rock formations and stopping at several places to swim and kayak.


Rock Formations in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Now as the sun was setting, my husband and I were relaxing on the deck before dinner, and enjoying a plate of fresh fruit appetizers and two chilled glasses of white wine that the staff had served.

“Hey, lady, you like wine?” the voice came again from the water, and I looked over the rail to see that she was now waving the bottle of wine in the air.

“Just ignore her, and she’ll go away,” said my husband, reaching for a big piece of dragon fruit.

“I don’t want to be rude,” I said.

“You’re not being rude. It’s just her job to be a high-pressure sales person. Ignore her.”


Wine and Fruit Appetizer on Halong Bay Overnight Boat Tour

Just then one of the boat stewards approached to check on us. Seeing the woman in the grocery boat, he yelled something at her in Vietnamese, and she slowly picked up her boat oars and paddled away.

“You wouldn’t want to buy that wine anyway,” my husband continued. “Can you imagine how bad it must taste being stocked on that open boat with the sun beating down on it all day in this 95 degree weather with 90 percent humidity.”

I had to agree with him. It wasn’t the first time we had seen wine stored in such a hot location in Vietnam. We had passed several tiny grocery stores and liquor shops in Hanoi with wine bottles displayed in glass windows in the bright sun with no air-conditioning. Most of the wine was inexpensive imports from France or local Vietnamese wine – much of it made with hybrid grapes, and often blended with fruit. The locals primarily drank beer, to which they frequently added ice.


Our Private Boat on Halong Bay

Here on the boat, however, the staff were preparing a big dinner for us, and had served us a glass of cold sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley. It was delicious with the fruit plate, especially after a long day in the sun and heat. We were feeling very spoiled, because the tour company we booked with promised to go whether or not they achieved the limit of 16 people. When no one else signed up, except for my husband, daughter, and a good friend, they honored the contract, and we were given a private ten-day culinary tour of Vietnam, complete with guide. This included all transportation, including this boat, which normally slept 20 people. So now we felt very pampered with a boat crew of five waiting on the four of us!

“Hey, lady, you want some wine?”

The voice floated out over the water again, and I looked around to see that the tiny wine sales woman had paddled around to the opposite side of our boat. She stood up again in her little dinghy with a big smile on her face, waving the bottle of wine at me.

“On no, not again,” moaned my husband.

“Come on, you have to give her credit,” I said. “Where else in the world would you have a wine sales experience like this?”


The Best Wine Sales Person in the World

I held out my arms out and gestured at the amazing scene that spread out around us; the sun had set and the sky was ablaze in colors of soft pink, lavender and orange. The tall rock formations rose around us, with their mysterious nooks and hollows, and the sea looked like molten silver.


Glancing down I saw with amazement that the tiny woman had inched her boat up to the back of ours, and was looking up at me with a big smile. She had short black hair, lovely tanned skin, and very white teeth.

“How much?” I asked.

“No,” groaned my husband. “You’re not going to buy that wine from her, are you?”

“Ten dollars,” she said. “Good price for very excellent wine.” She held out the bottle and I could see that it was the local Vang Dankia red wine that we had seen in many shops for around five dollars. I had tasted it in a restaurant, and it was quaffable, but given the fact that it had spent some time rocking on a boat in the hot sun, I doubted it was drinkable.


Negotiating for Wine

“Five dollars,” I countered.

“No, no,” she said, smiling and shaking her head. “I have to bring to you in my boat, so more expensive. Eight dollars.”

“Six,” I said.

“Seven,” she smiled.

“Ok, sold,” I said. “Mike can you give me some money? I left my purse in the cabin.”

Grumbling under his breath, he pulled the wallet from his pocket and gave me some money. “You know it is going to taste awful,” he said.

“Yes, probably,” I agreed. “But that is not the point. I am so impressed that she is selling wine out here in the middle of HalongBay in a Vietnamese grocery boat, that I cannot help but support her.”

I leaned over the side of the boat to give the money to the “best wine sales person in the world,” and she gently handed me the bottle of wine with a huge white grin on her face. I thanked her and wished her a good evening, then watched as she slowly paddled away in her little wooden grocery dinghy.


My Sales Lady Paddling Away into the Sunset on Halong Bay

Later, as the four of us settled down to an eight course dinner of amazing seafood and fresh vegetables, the waiter asked me if I wanted him to open the wine. I nodded yes, and as he poured it into a glass, I was surprised to see it was still a dark red, rather than the orange-brown color I was expecting. On the nose, however, the wine was oxidized and a bit “cooked”, with stewed berries and an earthy note. According to the label, which was written in both Vietnamese and English, it was a blend of the Cardinal grape and mulberry fruit. Under different storing conditions, it could have been quite interesting.

We all tried it for fun, and agreed that it was worthwhile to purchase the wine just for the experience and to support my new favorite wine sales person. Then my daughter, friend and I all reached for the chilled white Loire, while my husband and our guide asked for a beer.


Our Group with Guide Enjoying Vietnamese Dinner on Boat

Russian Dancers, Ballerinas and Caviar Enrapture Guests at Jordan Winery’s Holiday Party

I always enjoy receiving an invitation to visit Jordan Winery in the Alexander Valley AVA of Sonoma County. Not only is it one of the oldest wineries in the region, with an impressive gate and curving driveway which leads to a golden ivy-covered building designed in the French chateau style, but they are known for their very innovative events.


Ballerina Dancers at Jordan Winery in Sonoma County

This time it was an invitation to attend their Tchaikovsky Christmas Party tasting to highlight their new Jordan Cuvée Champagne made in partnership with AR Lenoble in France. This is a true Champagne made near Epernay, France and aged for 4 years on the lees. It has the telltale chalky minerality and crisp acidity that I crave in Champagne, along with hints of pear, lemon and brioche.  It is quite sophisticated and pairs well with the caviar that Jordan is now selling.


Enjoying Jordan Cuvee Champagne and Caviar

As soon as we approached the winery, we were greeted by a small group of ballerinas who were there to entertain the guests with exquisite dances from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. As we entered, we were handed a glass of the Jordan bubbles and invited to help ourselves to a lavish spread of oysters on the half-shell, salmon, shrimp, multiple types of caviar, and many other delectable dishes including a huge table of desserts and Russian petit fours. Ice sculptures and Russian backdrops were arranged amongst the wine barrels, and Russian music was playing in the background. In addition to Champagne, we were also offered Jordan’s very classic chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, which paired well with the multiple cheese and meat courses.


One of the highlights was a troup of Russian dancers who jumped and spun in the barrel room, delighting everyone with their gymnastic style dancing. It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in California wine country.


Russian Dancers at Jordan Winery

Prior holiday celebrations at Jordan included a Hawaiian Christmas theme, Halloween parties with vampires and pirates, and Belle Époque Spring Celebration. Jordan Winery is also famous for its fun YouTube video parodies featuring winery employees, such as the recent Despacito Embotellado.


Russian Christmas Theme at Jordan Winery