It’s my Birthday, I can Wine if I Want to

Rather than talk about all the fabulous wine I tried in La Rioja and Médoc, which would most likely bore you, I will instead describe the idiosyncrasies of being a wine traveler.

wine barrels

Wine Barrels in Médoc, France

In Haro, La Rioja, the mountains watched (and didn’t judge) as I sipped the tempranillos and viuras that flourish in this lovely Spanish microclimate. The first winery I visited, Bodegas Roda, provided some of the best olive oil I’ve ever had (Dauro). I ate at least twenty small croutons smothered in that delicious elixir. After the next tasting, at Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, the charming gentleman at the counter only charged me for one glass, because, apparently, he had “invited” me to the second. I didn’t argue. At Bodegas y Viñedos Gómez Cruzado, I went on my last tour before lunch with a father and son from the area. I was even able to communicate with them by the end of the tasting! The entire conversation consisted of me pointing at the bottles and saying “grape” in Spanish with a questioning tone, to which they kindly responded. Then I ate lunch, which I think was good, but as I don’t remember what I ate, I can’t attest. The tasting I went on that afternoon, at Bodegas Cune, was also delicious. I know I enjoyed it, because I sent some lovely e-mails with interesting typos. I apologize to those of you who had to suffer my orthographic inadequacy!

In Médoc, I had an altogether different experience, most likely the result of having to drive to get there. I arrived at the first winery, Château Hennebelle, just before 11 a.m. I went inside and asked if I could have a tour and tasting. The proprietor, who turned out to be one of the five generations that produce the wine, looked at me like I had asked what the capital of France was. So I tried their wine, which was fabulous of course, and bought a bottle while getting to know Pierre. His name was even on the bottle!

Then I attempted to find the restaurant I had chosen for lunch, Café Lavinal, without navigation of the electric or paper kind. This turned into a game that I eventually won, but not without circumnavigating the tiny town in which I dined at least three times. The lunch, I must say, was inimitable. More so because Café Lavinal had a wine vending machine (which I didn’t use- I drive responsibly 🙂 ). And an exquisite chocolate mousse. AND they were adorably polite. I’m pretty sure they thought I was rich, which was a nice thing for them to assume, incorrectly.

The next winery on the agenda was closed, but I decided to visit one at random before checking in at my hotel. This was exceptionally easy, because as I drove through Médoc, I saw that wineries surrounded the countryside, rather than the other way around. The one I visited, Vieux Château Landon, had been bought by a Chinese company, which, my guide told me, was quite common. The wine there was alright, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Moreover, I was so excited to get to my hotel, where I would do a tasting and celebrate my birthday. I said almost as much to my guide, who invited me to fête my birthday with him and a friend. I told him I would get back to him.

vineyard in Médoc

Vineyard in Médoc

I finally arrived at my hotel, Rollan de By, near the Gironde Estuary and fairly close to the Atlantic Ocean. The proprietors there, Déborah and Benjamin, could not have been more kind or welcoming. They gave me a bottle of wine to enjoy with my dinner later, and also informed me of fun things to do in the area. So I went to Château La Tour de By, where I purchased tubes of wine. Yes, tubes of wine. They were made to be transported in carry-ons, and come in little vials that would be more appropriate for science experiments, or perhaps blood. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it years ago!

At my hotel’s winery, I went on the most in-depth wine tour I have ever been on. With no hint of sarcasm, this is the highest compliment I can give to a tour guide! At this point I was getting hungry, so luckily, my médocain platter was ready when I returned to the hotel. Benjamin also informed me that the guide from Vieux Château Landon had called the hotel to ask if I still wanted to go out for my birthday, and if so, to give him a call. I really wanted to text this young man that I had decided to stay in, but unfortunately I had purchased the crappiest cell phone credit that exists, and so no longer had any credit. Oops!

With my bottle of wine and médocain platter (which consisted of pâtés, boudin, ham, cherry tomatoes, bread, and desert), I feasted! I tried to find some Frenchy film on the TV to set the mood, but none were on. Instead I watched Les Simpsons. Très chic!

BIRTHDAY PLATTER

A médocain platter at my hotel, Rollan de By

After sipping from the wellsprings of two very different wine regions, what have I to say? Firstly, à chacun son goût. I may love a young Cru Bourgeois from Médoc, while someone else prefers to drink it years later. Secondly, it depends, always. For me, my mood, what I am eating or not eating, the weather, and the company I keep all contribute to a ‘good’ wine selection. And I rarely regret the wine I select. Lastly, have fun! Wine is not meant to be drunk only by the fancy-shmancy pants of the world. It’s a democratic, often inexpensive, beautifully crafted beverage for all those of legal age. Go on, have a glass…Cheers!

*For extra credit, share your favorite wine(s) below!

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Obviously, I’m in love!

This is the first time I’m doing this (and it may well be the last), but here it goes. I am going to post something I wrote in my travel journal verbatim, because, well, it’s just kind of more awesome that way. You’ll see…

wine_Granada

At Casa de Vinos La Brujidera, Granada. If you go, try the Calvente, a local white wine!

In La Brujidera Casa de Vinos, sipping Calvente, which apparently is the “local pride” of Granada. It’s nice! Doesn’t have a strong smell, but when you sip it, it’s full of citrus BANG- like a smack full of grapefruit & nice minerals. And they’re playing AMAZING jazz standards. Obviously, I’m’ in love!

OMG- I don’t usually like olives that much, but these are heaven. Salty, but not too much, with the olive taste you get from olive oil. In other words- the GOOD olive taste- they even taste a bit tangy-sweet- I WANT MORE! Spain is such a good idea! Maybe even a little pepper in these olives? Wow- it’s like I’m converting to a new religion. This bar has excellent proselytizers!

The wow-ness continues- that bread w/ the ham & melted cheese. I think I’m coming here again. Or maybe I’ll have another glass…or both. Both. (I’m really hoping they bring out another plate of tapas w/ the 2nd glass.

~

They did bring a second plate 🙂 First sip of the 2nd Calvente, just as snappy-fresh as the last glass! And the olives are still bomb-diggedy! Maybe I should move to Spain- THEY JUST started playing “C’est si bon”!!!! That’s it. I give up. This is one of those moments you look back on years in the future thinking “That’s the life”, but it is my life. And c’est si bon!! 🙂

As I read this post, sitting in a café overlooking the Atlantic in Donostia/San Sebatstián, I smile. There are things about me that will change, especially as I continue to travel, but one thing will never change. I will never abandon that joie de vivre that makes me, me!

Reflection on Sevilla

A puddle reflecting Sevilla

Do You Believe in Magic?

Black Sand Beaches, Iceland

Black Sand Beaches, Iceland

It’s said that some percentage of Iceland greater than zero believes in elves. Despite my skepticism, at some point, we all have to believe in something. Why not elves?

After traveling for a few weeks alone, I was thrilled to join several close friends in Iceland for Thanksgiving. I bought my allotted amount of alcohol (18 beers, 4 bottles of wine) and, escaping duty free, the gates to Iceland parted as my Icelandic friend warmly greeted me. Thus began my journey in a land of Skittle juice and whale penises.

The view from our cabin was more stunning than the most ersatz Thomas Kinkade painting. Snow covered the ground and mountains beyond as the gray sky melted into the snowy vista before us. Only one thing would improve this scenery: exploring it on foot!

Making our way to Bruarfoss, an azure waterfall bounding down pitch-black rocks, we began throwing snowballs at each other. Laughing and chatting back to the cabin, we peeled off our layers and roasted pleasantly in the hot tub.

Bruarfoss

Bruarfoss, Iceland

The next few days, we hiked up a mountain blanketed with snow to a naturally hot river, ate a Thanksgiving feast in the Icelandic countryside, and squeezed through a fissure in a rock face, hopping from stone to stone to reach a waterfall well worth the effort (Gljúfurárfoss, below). Though we discovered many beautiful Icelandic sights, one eclipsed all others.

Gljúfurárfoss 1

Gljúfurárfoss, Iceland

There is a saying: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, but the other gold.” It is cheesy, even to me, but also true. I often can’t remember how I met those closest to me. One of my best friends, for example, I don’t remember meeting, because it seems we’ve always been singing Ella & Louis, and shouting at innocent bystanders in a butchered Cockney accent. It’s easy to forget how good things began, and how silver friends became gold.

I grew closer to each of the people I traveled with in Iceland, in the way you can only when you travel. By experiencing newness together, whether in uncomfortable moments of cultural ambiguity, or in awe of Mother Nature (who is surely Icelandic), we formed a visceral bond different from those made in coffee shops and group projects.

There were times when I wanted to be alone during our week in Iceland, but the moments together will be those I remember most fondly. The connections you make with the people you meet make life worth living. That is a magic more powerful than that of elves or witches. It’s at least as strange, and much more available. After all, I might not believe in elves, but if I’ve got to believe in something, why not the magic of human relationships?

Harpa, Reykjavik

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland