Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Is it really cheaper or am I just splitting fares?

I am continuing to post here, but my main site is now: Come and visit!

Picture this scenario. You live in the Washington area, and next summer you would like to spend a few days in London, and then you would like to fly on to Greece. The plan looks like this. You will leave Washington on July 14, 2007. Then you will travel to Athens on July 21. You would like to stay there until August 5. There is a late flight out of Athens on August 5, and you can take the onward leg back to Washington on August 6.

Using the BA site and selecting the lowest possible and most restricted fare, This journey will set you back $2,294, and that includes $341.81 in taxes. Quite a lot!

Now there is nothing you can do about these dreadful taxes, but there are a few tricks you can do to play with the fare. Try this. Still using the BA site, book the Washington to London flight as one trip picking the very same flight, and the trip to London will cost $985.71, including taxes of $288.71. Then buy another ticket and book exactly the same flights to and from Athens. The total fare for the Athens trip will be GBP (British Pounds) 168.20 or $328.64 in US dollars. So the total for your trip will turn out to be $1,314.35 — a total savings of 979.65!

And if you worry that British Airways will use their computers to track you down and hate you for ever, you could always use another airline for the London to Washington leg. There are all sorts of airlines offering low cost trips out of London to many European airports.

For example, using EasyJet (, the trip to Greece from London’s Gatwick airport would cost GBP 150.52, and that includes a travel insurance policy as well as taxes.

Good luck searching for cheap flights. And remember that two tickets are often cheaper than one!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Redeeming miles on British Airways Executive Club

A slightly more detailed version of this post is posted on my new site:

Another work in progress on the new site is that you will be able to filter postings. For example, you can see only the airline-related postings.

This posting is probably useful only to British Airways Executive Club members who live in the United States.

Back in the “good old days,” it was pretty easy to rack up miles on British Airways.
First, they had household accounts, which allowed people living at the same address to pool their miles into a single account. As a result, even people who hardly ever traveled could collectively earn a free ticket.

Secondly, it was pretty cheap to buy tickets with miles. For example, 40,000 miles would buy a ticket from anywhere in the United States to anywhere in Europe. I once went from Washington (IAD) to Istanbul forjust 40,000 miles. I also once had a fabulous trip in First for 120,000 miles. My route was Washinton to London; London to Dubai; Dubai to Tehran; Tehran to Dubai; Dubai to London; London to Manchester; Manchester to London; London to Washington.

Third you could accumulate miles really fast using a Diners Club card. For every dollar you spent, you earned a mile. And every summer, British Airways used to have a two-for-one offer.
These happy days are over. British Airways now gives you only 25% of miles flown if you use a discount ticket. The number of miles required has risen massively. And the Diners Club offer in the summer gives you only 1.5 miles to the dollar. We are going to book some tickets to southern Europe sometime this summer (probably Athens), but each ticket is going to cost 65,000 miles.

It almost looks as if British Airways wants to hide free tickets on its web site. They advertise deals that allow you to pay part cash and part miles, and these are easy to find. They also seem to hid the chart that tells you how many miles you are going to need.

So here is the link for members (with a number/userID and PIN/password) wanting to get free tickets for their miles.

Friday, December 01, 2006

New Website!!!

Well as you may know, I have been really busy with other stuff. But one thing that I have accomplished is to establish, and that is where I will be blogging in the future.

I have teamed with my niece, Louisa.  The idea is to try and provide travel, food, and wine information from two entirely difference perspectives.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wine Spectator -- Wine of the Year

Well, I think in the future that I should stick to predicting the past. It is so much easier!

The Wine Spectator came out with its top (most exciting) wine of the year last Friday. Earlier this year, in this post (Click here) I predicted that Chateau Leoville Barton (2003) wouild be chosen as the Wine Spectator's wine of the year. But I was wrong. Leoville Barton came in as number three. Casanova di Neri, Brunello di Montalcino (2001) won the top spot with Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (2003) coming in second.

With 98 points, Leoville Barton scored more than the Casanova (97) and Quilceda (95). And the only other wine scoring 98 was Krug Brut Champagne, 1995 with a price tag of $224!

You can see the whole list by clicking here.

I am still glad to have several bottles of the Leoville Barton lying around. I have not tried it yet.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

I have always thought that one of the many joys of wine drinking is finding special wine that tastes much more expensive than the price suggests. For those of you who read my last posting about the Guardian Peak SMG, there is an amazing story. A friend brought it for us to have over dinner all the way from the winery, where he paid about $20.00 for it. But we discovered it here for only $9.99! (We had it special ordered from Paul's in Wisconsin Avenue in DC.) I have always known that it can be a bit expensive to buy at the winery, but this seems extraordinary!

While on the subject of price, a lot of people suggest I am missing the point in my proposed scoring system for airline wine service that I described on The suggestion is that I know the "price of everything and the value of nothing" as Oscar Wilde would put it. But actually I want to discover the bargains, and however good the wine is, I don't want an airline to go bargain hunting on my behalf when I am sitting in an airline seat.

I absolutely love Tesco Champagne, but if I am in Seat 2A on Singapore Airlines, I want to have the choice between my Krug and Dom Perignon. When I am back on terra firma, then I want to be the one discover the Tesco Champagne and tell how I got my six-pack for only GBP 78.03!

The opportunity to taste these very expensive and sometimes overpriced wines in the air is also a good benchmarking opportunity. It is nice to compare your steals with the expensive stuff that you cannot usually afford.

I no longer post to this site.  Click here to access my new web site:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Guardian Peak SMG, 2004

Long boycotted during the apartheid era, South African wines are something of a mystery to me although I am beginning to be very interested in them for two main reasons. First, they seem to represent excellent value for money. Second, they seem to do very well with a grape I like very much, Chenin Blanc, which is usually called Steen in South Africa.

Last night we had something completely different while we were waiting for dinner. One of my friends brought Guardian Peak SMG 2004, which we drank before dinner with cheese (Manchego, Cheshire, and Irish Cheddar). As you might have already guessed, SMG stands for Syrah (54%), Mourvedre (36%), and Grenache (10%). With an alcohol level of 14.5%, this is certainly not a wimpy wine, and it is a little bit "in your face" with deep and rich plummy stewed fruit flavors with sweet cherry notes. This wine does not lack subtlety though, and the blend gives it a degree of spicy vanilla cedary complexity. I wondered how it would taste after a few years in the cellar.

This is a wonderful wine, and I strongly recommend it. My friends brought it back from South Africa, but I saw it on Wine Searcher for just $9.99. If this wine can really be had for that price (or anything less than $15.00 for that matter), I would dash out and buy all I could afford!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hanna, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1988

Hanna, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1988

This wine was in my cellar for one only reason. The youngest in our family is called Hannah, and 1988 was the year of her birth. The Hanna winery also holds a special place in our hearts since we had a lovely visit there when we staying in Calistoga a few years back. Last night, Hannah was back home visiting from college so we decided to celebrate with a bottle of Hanna.

But I did not really expect much from Hanna. First 1988 was really not a particularly good vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon in Northern California. Second, everyone tells you these days that most wines are intended to conumed upon release, and a wine is far more likely to show badly if it is drunk too late than if you drink it too soon. Finally, I had a problem with the cork, which broke while I was trying to open it. I finally managed to remove it fairly cleanly, and although the top part of the cork was broken, it looked as though the bottom part of it had maintained a good seal. There was a considerable amount of sediment so I poured it through a filter into a decanter.

As I was pouring, it became clear that we were in for something of a treat. A delicious aroma of blackcurrant came up from the wine as I poured. The color was a deep crimson with perhaps some degree of lightening but certainly no browning. The taste was concentrated deep fruit with some cedar with sweet vanilla overtones from the oak. A delicious wine that really seemed to have derived benefit from eighteen years in my cellar.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sushi King, Columbia, MD

Sushi King
6490 Dobbin Road
Columbia, MD

Monday - Saturday

(Lunch 11:30AM to 3PM)

(Dinner 5PM to 10PM)

Sunday Closed

Phone: 410 997 1269
Fax: 410 997 1266

For a Google map, click here.

For Sushi King's website, click here.

Two Japanese restaurants in Columbia have very high ratings in the Zagat guide. One is Sushi Sono (Click here for my comments), and the other is Sushi King where we had lunch today. Sushi King is located in a rather dreary strip mall next to the handy express Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office, where you can renew registrations and drivers' licenses without the fuss of going to Glen Burnie. The restaurant is decorated in that typical Japanese bamboo style with little cubicles where you can eat in privacy.

Eating off the lunch menu, we had bento boxes, and two of our party of four were not particularly hungry so we only ordered three of them. Mine came tempura -- two large shrimps and vegetables, rice, an order of California rolls, and a nicely dressed salad ($9.50). The other came with Tuna rolls and Chicken Teryaki ($9.50). Miso soup was included.

The Miso soup was very nice. It seemed slighly sweeter than most. The tempura items were obviously freshly cooked, and the California Rolls tasted very fresh. The food was definitely above average.

Although the food was good although not spectacularI must say that, given the choice, I would prefer to go to Sushi Sono. The service here has been friendly in the part. I am not sure if they resented two of us sharing a box, but the server seemed rather unfriendly. (She presented only three bubble gums at the end of the meal!)

Although Sushi King serves alcoholic drinks, we did not have wine with our meal, and the bill for three lunches (but four people) was about $35, including an extra order of California Rolls to go. Very good value!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Moet & Chandon White Star

Well I acquired this bottle out of spite. A couple of weeks, I was about to buy a bottle of Korbel, but suddenly felt irritated that it called itself Champagne. (If you are interested, click here to see that discussion and Korbel's defense.) So I spent three times as much money -- about $30.00. And I wound up with this delicious bottle of White Star from Moet & Chandon.

They always say that if you spend a little extra, the first thing you forget is the price, and I liked this Champagne very much indeed. It is made with both red grapes (Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) and white grapes (Chardonnay). It is less dry than most Champagnes sold in the United States, which are usually Brut. This Extra Dry Champagne is considerably sweet. It is a kinder, gentler Champagne that would go well with anything. (I don't find Brut Champagne works very well with desserts although it served so often with wedding cakes.) It has nice beedy little bubbles, and is fruity in a way that is not often found in Champagne -- peaches! Very nice indeed.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pistachio Nuts, B.F. Skinner, and Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2001

For people seeking the short story on 2001 Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is simply extraordinary. I bought it a few years ago at the King's Contrivance Liquor Store in Columbia. (Click here for the posting on where I get my wine.) This wine had a dark berry flavor. It was surprisingly sweet, dark, and extremely intense. You could certainly taste the oak that provided soft vanilla overtones to the flavor. Simply stated, this wine was delicious. Although the price was $16.49 on the bottle, I think it was on sale and I paid about $12.00 for the bottle. Keeping it for a few years really paid off.

Now the long story...

(If you have the time, follow the links. It might be fun!)

In an earlier post, I suggested that some of the fun about wine drinking is about finding a wine where the quality seems to bear little relationship to the price. When I drink wine like the perennially good Petite Syrah from Bogle at around $12.00, I feel that I have somehow beaten the system! The Ancient Vines Zinfandel (around $12.00) from Cline gives me that same smug satisfaction.

But there is another joy of drinking wine that is linked to a theory, which is totally devoid of any research basis, that I have about pistachio nuts. Put a bowl of pistachio nuts in front of me, and I cannot stop eating them until the last one has gone. Other people often seem to have similar weaknesses.

(By the way, if I am drinking wine before dinner, I usually avoid peanuts. I don't consider them very wine friendly.)

Apart from unrestrained gluttony, I believe that this compulsion to keep eating is related to the behaviorist idea that habits are more strongly reinforced if the reward for a behavior is given randomly. So, if you eat thirty pistachio nuts, you are likely to find twenty six good ones, one little stinker, and the remaining three will simply sing in your mouth. Seeking the reward of that perfect pistachio, you just keep on and on eating them.

The pistachio nut enthusiast probably knows that the best pistachio nuts in the world come from Iran which, according the article in Wikipedia on the subject, produces more pistachios nuts in the world with 38% of the world's production. You can usually tell an Iranian pistachio nut just by looking at it. They tend to be much larger than most, and they simply taste better. (Avoid pistachios that are dyed red. They are rarely any good.)

Readers in Maryland can buy Iranian pistachios at Sizar's food market:

6955 Oakland Mills Rd
Columbia, MD 21045.

For a Google map, click here.

(They are not quite as good as getting them from a firend traveling to Iran, but they are still pretty tasty! Sizar's is a nice little Persian grocery store with not just food from Iran, but all sorts of food from the Middle East and the Mediterranean. You can also get Indian food there, including chutneys curry paste, and so on.)

So what has all this got to do with Geyser Peak? Well, I wanted a red wine for dinner on Friday night. We did not have guests so I was not looking for one of my better Bordeaux, but I wanted something a little bit better than an $8.00 "everyday" wine. I also wanted to drink up any potentially "over the hill" wines in the cellar. So that was why I picked the Geyser Peak -- not too expensive, possibly aging, and, without guests, the risk of disappointment was low.

This wine was my unpredictable reward. I hoped for "good" and would have been satisfied with "okay," but I never expected extraordinary. It reminded me of much more expensive wines, and I began to think of Silver Oak. It was so dark, dense, and the blackberry/cassis fruit was marvellous. The oak provided a rich vanilla almost creamy! Although probably mature, it was clearly not in decline, and I would venture to say that it was at its peak. I have one bottle of this wine left. I will drink it soon but on a very special occasion!

I have had a lot of good luck from Geyser Peak, and this experience will keep me coming back again and again to seek that perfect reward!

The winery's notes on this wine are below:

Vintage: 2001
Appellation: Alexander Valley

Grape Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

Storage/Type: 100% American oak barrels: 20% new oak; 80% a balanced mixture of one-, two-, and three-year old oak
Maturation Time: 15 months

Production Comments: A portion of the fruit for this wine was processed through our rotary fermenters. These innovative tanks enable maximum desirable extraction with only four or five days of on-skin fermentation, and minimize extraction of harsh, undesirable tannins.

Bottling Information & Analysis: Bottling Date: 06/03

Release Date: 12/03

Cases Produced: 49400

Alcohol 13.5%

pH 3.72

Acid 0.60

R.S. Dry

Wine Description: Classic Alexander Valley aromas of sweet blackberry fruit and cassis burst out of the glass on this wine. The vibrant intensity of the fruit aromas is typical of Geyser Peak's style, as is the restrained oak, which supports the fruit without dominating it. Ripe raspberry, blackberry and black cherry flavors harmonize on the wine's rich, juicy mid-palate with toasty oak notes. Typically Alexander Valley tannins come to the fore on the finish, which harmonizes persistent fruit flavors with fine-grained tannins.
Recipes: Black Olive Tapenade Crostini, Fabulous Flank Steak, Grilled New York Steaks with Cabernet Reduction Sauce, Pork Chops a La Piacenza, Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Jus, Red Wine Braised Oxtail

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hampton Inn, Lexington Park

The lobby at the Hampton Inn. Breakfast is served here.

Hampton Inn
22211 Three Notch Road
Lexington Park, Maryland
United States 20653

Tel: +1-301-863-3200
Fax: +1-301-863-7865

For a Google map, click here

There is an old principle in writing about hotels, planes, and restaurants. Don't judge them by how they perform when things are going well. Reserve judgement until things go wrong. I remember trying to take an old TWA flight from JFK to Madrid shortly before TWA disappeared. The flight couldn't leave, and we were told to go away and come back in 24 hours. Accommodation? Find your own. Can you guarantee us a seat on tomorrow's flight? I can't even guarantee we will be here tomorrow. Shortly after that TWA disappeared. And I was glad!

Anyway, we arrived late at the Hampton Inn in Lexington Park to check into our room, and we were told we had the last room. When we went upstairs, we found the key would not work so the very nice person at the desk came to help. Even his new key would not work so he went to get a "hard" key, a metal one that you use the old fashioned way. As he tried to turn the key, a sad voice from behind the door politely asked if there was any reason why we trying to get into his room.

The desk clerk immediately apologized profusely, and we went downstairs. The first thing he did was to phone the sad man and tell him that there would be no charge for the night. Then he found us a room and said there would be no charge for us either.

I was so pleased that they seemed so anxious to please, and the next day the new person on duty at the desk apologized too and freely admitted that it was her fault.

In every other way, the stay was excellent. This hotel is well appointed with a very comfortable bed, a good large bathroom. Breakfast in the morning is included, and it was quite nice with good coffee.

As I have mentioned before, I really like Hampton Inns, and this was a great example of them going out of their way to please.

I only wish they would not use stryrofoam so much for breakfast!

Our room for the night, if we had not been given the free room, would have been about $95.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Hot Noodle, California, MD

The Hot Noodle
22576 Macarthur Boulevard
Maryland 20616

A Google map can be found here.

Telephone: 301-862-9188

When I see a restaurant that serves many different kinds of cooking, I often walk in another direction. It irritates me if a restaurant seems to be unable to make up its mind about what kind of food it wants to serve. But if I applied that principle to the Hot Noodle, I would miss out on some really very good food.

This restaurant, which is convenient to people visiting Patuxent Naval Air Station or St. Mary's College of Maryland, is located in a little strip mall in an area with offices that seem to feed off the Naval Air Station. Advertising that you can have "The Great Taste of Asia All Under One Roof," The Hot Noodle is a place where you can get Chinese Potstickers ($5.95), Pho ($6.95), Pad Thai ($7.45), or Korean Short Ribs ($13.95). I think the owners are probably Vietnamese so I usually stick to Vietnamese dishes, but friends and family have had food from all over the map. I cannot remember having a bad dish here. And this restaurant offers really good value for money in a nice comfortable setting.

I usually start with the Spring Rolls (3 for $4.95) or the Shrimp Summer Rolls (3 for $4.95), which are "freshly sliced shrimp, lettuce, island mints, carrots, cucumbers, vermicelli noodles, and bean sprouts, hand wrapped in cool rice paper, and served with zesty peanut sauce." The peanut sauce is just wonderful!

The excellent Vietnamese Steak ($10.95) is made of tender cubes of very good beef cooked in a wok and served with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions with a lime and pepper sauce. It is my favorite dish in the restaurant.

There is a wine list, but I have always been traveling so I have never has any wine here, but they serve very nice limeade. The portions are generous, and I have always been too full for dessert.

My only gripe here is the way they print the menu. Red text on green is barely legible to most people, and would probably be a nightmare for people with color perception difficulties! Some of the writing is in small print over pictures, and that is difficult to read too. But I hear they are changing their menu. I only hope that means the presentation rather than the dishes.

Dinner for eight last Saturday (September 16, 2006) was only $113 the other night. We had shared starters, a main course, and soft drinks. An exceptionally good restaurant with excellent value for money!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Château Langoa Barton, 1996

We had a bottle of Château Langoa Barton, 1996, on Saturday night, and I was hoping for something very special, and it wasn't.

I found it hard, very tannic, and there really was not much sense of fruit. It seemed as if this wine was in a period where it had lost the fresh initial fruit of a young wine, but had not yet softened its tannins and gained complexity.

After a little, it seemed to open up a little, but overall this was a disappointment. Perhaps we should have just kept this wine longer!

Westin Hotel, Port Royal, Hilton Head, South Carolina

We stopped for drinks at the very well appointed Westin Hotel in Hilton Head. It was delightful watching the sun go down as we had drinks by the pool. (Be prepared for plastic cups, though!.)

As we drank, we decided that renting in our apartment (See my notes on Sunset Rentals) was a much better way to stay in Hilton Head than to stay at a hotel.

But having drinks by the pool was a lot of fun, and the nachos were great. The restaurants in the hotel looked wonderful too, and we meant to return for dinner but never did.

For people who compile lists of the world's best loos (bathrooms), this was top class with nice soap from Molton Brown!
Posted by Picasa

Château Musar is doing OK!

During the recent troubles, I worried that one of my favorite wineries, Château Musar, in the Bekaa valley, might suffer losses.

It has always amazed me that they have managed to produce wine year after year. (They have only missed three vintages, 1976, 1984, and 1992, and 1992 was because the grapes were not up to standard.)

Anyway, I decided to write to them to see if they were all right, and got the following answer:

Many thanks for your very kind thoughts and concern.We are deeply grateful for your prayers and your messages of support. All Chateau Musar's team are well and continuing their great work. The winery and the vineyards are doing well and we expect a very good crop for the 2006 vintage.
Best regards

Château Musar

Keep these folks in your thoughts!

For people who are having difficulty locating their wine in the United States, you might want to contact the importer:

Broadbent Selections, Inc
2088 Union Street
Suite 2San Francisco
CA 94123

Telephone: 415 931 1725
Fax: 415 921 0596

(Broadbent Selections was nominated for importer of the year by the Wine Enthusiast last year, and the other selections are really interesting too!)

And visit their blog at

Monday, August 28, 2006

Korbel Responds

The following posting came from Paul Ahvenainen, Korbel's Director of Winemaking, in response to my posting, in which I suggested that the Champagne should be used only by wine producers in the Champagne area of France. In his response, Mr. Ahvenainen suggested that this is the view of the self-righteous. My position is that when we receive accurate information from wine producers, everyone, including the producers, is better off.

There is an interesting article that deals with the subject in depth in Wikipedia. Click here to read it.

While I do not agree with his position, it seemed to me to be fair to give the "other side" visibility in this debate.

Mr. Paul Ahvenainen's comments follow:

God I just love the web! Anyone can say just about anything and actually have it read. Unfortunatly, the web hasn't figured out a way to filter for accuracy.

Here I am on a Monday morning, pressing a few hundred tons of chardonnay for future Korbel champagne, and up pops another blogger verbally wagging his self rightous finger at me and all the hard working people here at Korbel.

Everyone is entiled to thier opinion. Let's at least get a few facts straight.

1. The question of regional place names growing into common usage goes far beyond champagne or other wines. Take the term cheddar, is it a place or is it a style of cheese? I think that most sensible people would say that once a term like cheddar comes into common usage to represent a particular style of cheese, regardless of where the cheese was made, it is available for usage. I don't think the US consumer is clamoring for Kraft to drop cheddar from its cheese line anytime soon.

Ask yourself this question: If, without saying anything, a friend at a party hands you a traditional flute of pale fizzy wine as you walk in the door, in your own mind, what did you just recieve? For 99% of people, the honest answer is, "a glass of champagne". Clearly the term champagne refers to a style of wine, not just a place.

2. Korbel's use of the term champagne is permited by both US and EU regulations. The French don't like to admit it, but they just signed a treaty within the last several months, clearly (however relucantly) acknowleging the long usage of the term champagne outside of the Marne Valley. Essentialy, the EU is agreeing that the term is in common usage now, but are trying to bring the usage back under thier control. That's just not going to happen. Cheddar will always be a style of cheese. Wine with bubbles will always be champagne.

3. Don't buy into the Moet & Chandon propaganda machine. This isn't about wine or small growers toiling in the soil. It's about a competitive market place, major corporations and MONEY. I have seen reports circulated in France that converts "California Champagne" sales into euros, very large numbers of euros.

You did'nt also buy into Moet's Dom Perrignon fairy tale, did you?

4. Korbel has been using the term "California Champagne" for over 120 years. Nobody cared until we became a major player in the US market in the 1970's.

5. I have been associated with Korbel for over 20 years. In that time, I have never met a consumer who was confused about the origin of our products. Our identity is firmlly based as an American / California producer.

We are proud to offer the US consumer a choice, and a great value.

Too bad about the White Star, your loss.

Paul Ahvenainen
Director of Winemaking
Korbel Champagne Cellars
Guerneville CA, USA

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Moet 1 - Korbel 0

That's right. The winner is Moet. Korbel just lost a sale

I have just bought a bottle of Moet & Chandon White Star. Actually, I was looking for a bottle of California sparkling wine, but I decided not to because I became irritated by Korbel.

I have had Korbel's sparkling wines before, and I have enjoyed them. But today I noticed that they continue to mark their offering with the word, Champagne, in addition to indicating that they are made in the methode champenoise. I carefully looked at all the other bottles, and I noticed that all the respectable companies in California (Piper Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer, Codorniu Napa, Mumm) call their wines in this class sparkling wine. The exceptions to the rule tend to be at the very low end of the market, including some of the wines from New York State. It seems to me to be silly that Korbel wishes to join the ranks of Cooks, Totts, Taylors, and Great Western.

So to express my irritation, I decided to buy a bottle of the real thing!

I would be interested in comments from readers. In my opinion, there is no need to call a wine Champagne when it clearly does not come from the Champagne area. Let me know if you agree, and if you do, please boycott these wines! If you don't please let me know. I would be interested to hear from you. In the meantime, I am looking forward to drinking a wine that truly deserves to be called Champagne.

In my previous post, I noted how much information Ridge gives to its consumers. I wish Korbel would give us the same respect!

Ridge Vineyards 1991 Santa Cruz Mountains, Cabernet Sauvignon

If you were to ask me which were my top ten American wine producers, Ridge would definitely be in the list, and it would probably be near the top.

Although I have more experience with their Zinfandel based wines, I have always enjoyed their Cabernet very much indeed too. But I must admit to approaching this bottle with some trepidation. Although, I had kept it in good condition, the recommended "bottle age" was "five to ten years" so I was afraid I would be drinking it after its expiry date. This fear increased when the cork broke as I was opening it. But I was able to salvage it without dropping a single piece of it into the dark red liquid.

To the nose, you could immediately tell that this was a rich, long, deeply-flavored wine that would refuse to "go away" even if you wanted it to. The flavors were deep cherry and cassis with a hint of cigar box and tobacco. The presence of a little Merlot and Cabernet Franc were suggestive of a Bordeaux although the richness and a tiny bit of sweetness distinguished this wine as distinctly Californian.

I absolutely loved this wine, and comments from all who tasted it about its silky smooth finish suggested we were drinking it at absolutely the right time. A very well rewarded wait!

I once visited the winery in Cupertino. After a long drive up the mountain, you are welcomed to a friendly tasting room with well-informed presenters. I remember being very amused when the mail man dropped off his letters and was rewarded for his pains with a sip of Cabernet Sauvignon. I remember thinking how very civilized that was. And how European!

One of the marvellous things about Ridge is how well they document their wine both on their website, and also on the bottle. The text on the bottle is below:





91 Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard, bottled March 1993

On Monte Bello Ridge, our vines are divided between two vineyards—Santa Cruz Mountains and Monte Bello. The former extends from the thirteen hundred foot elevation upwards and includes the old Jimsomare Ranch, as well as those vines higher on the ridge which typically produce more supple, less tannic wines. The 1991 was initially aged in new, air-dried, american oak and finished in two-year-old barrels to maintain the balance between spicy oak and berry fruit. The inclusion of merlot and a small amount of franc added further complexity. A lovely wine, enjoyable now, it will develop more fully with five to ten years of bottle age.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sunset Rentals -- Hilton Head

The living room
View of the beach from the balcony

We rented an apartment for a week in Hilton head from a company we have used before, Sunset Rentals. The cost for the week's rental in August was approximately $1,200, and that included everything (tax, clean up, and cancellation insurance.) The fourth-floor apartment was in South Forest beach and had a master bedroom with bathroom, second bedroom, second bathroom, kitchen, dining/living room, and a balcony. We could see the ocean from the bathroom and the master bedroom. There was a telephone set up for local calls only.
Sunset Rentals was really efficient. They send you e-mail with codes that allow you to get in, and you never have to see anybody.
When we arrived the apartment was in perfect working order with shampoo and other amenities in the bathrooms, toilet paper, and other "starter items." There was also high speed Internet available in the apartment although that was what I wanted to get away from!
Sunset Rentals is recommended, and we were able to do all transactions across their website.
Click here to go to their site.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hampton Inn, Florence, South Carolina

Hampton Inn Florence-North
1826 West Lucas Street
Florence, South Carolina
United States 29501

Tel: +1-843-662-7000
Fax: +1-843-661-5150

For a Google map, click here.

I suppose you could say that we went to the wrong Florence! The drive from Maryland to Hilton Head is long and dreary. Traffic can be horrendous in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, and the door-to-door journey from our house in Maryland is 630 miles. Quite often we stop on the way. And there aren't many interesting places unless you stray a long way from I-95, the interstate that runs from top to bottom along the east coast of the United States.

This time we decided to stay in Florence.
We did not come to Florence to see the Ponte Vecchio or the Uffizi Gallery. Rather this town is just across the South Carolina border, and we felt that crossing the border would create a sense of accomplishment. We would be in the same state as our beloved Hilton head. This is the third Hampton Inn where we have stayed recently. Our rate was only $66.00, and I have to say that I have been very impressed with this chain every time I have stayed at one of their hotels.

Our room accommodated all four of us in two double beds although Iran thought our bed was just a little narrow. Shampoo and lotion were provided and the bathroom was excellent. The air conditioning worked well. The bedding was good too. We had a perfectly adequate breakfast in the morning, which was included in the price of the room, and we got a newspaper in the morning.
A final touch is that we got Hilton points and British Airways miles. And the person at the reception desk was really nice and very helpful!

For the price and the location, I don't think you could expect much more! Incidentally, it was much nicer than a horrid Holiday Inn, where we stayed in the other Florence a couple of years ago!

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Hilton Head, South Carolina

The beach at Hilton Head

We have just come back from a week on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. We have been here several times before, but it reminded me what a wonderful and relaxing place this is.

There are twelve miles of beautiful beach. There are good restaurants, and excellent golf courses.
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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Gruet -- Blanc de Noirs, NV

After a recent post about Blanquette de Limoux, a good friend of mine, Suzy, suggested I try a sparkling wine, Gruet, from the state where she lives, New Mexico. So I was delighted to find Gruet's Blanc de Noirs when I was shopping at Balducci's in Alexandria recently.

Made in the traditional methode champenoise, this is a remarkably refined sparkling wine. It has the tiny persistent bubbles that characterize very good bubblies. It also has that attractive toasty flavor with red berry notes -- something between strawberries and raspberries. Its color is typical of blanc de noirs. Made mostly with Pinot Noir, this wine has a dark straw color with a suggestion that, if it blushed a little more, it would become pink -- in the sparkling wine world, people talk about salmon!

This is an exceptionally nice sparkling wine at a very fair price (about $15.00). A highly recommended low-priced alternative to Champagne!

Thank you, Suzy, for such a wonderful suggestion!

Connexion by Boeing

I read recently in the Financial Times that Boeing has decided to stop its Connexion service on flights.

This service, which is offered by several airlines (including Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, El Al, Korean Air, All Nippon Airways, Scandinavian, and JAL) allows passengers with Wi-Fi on their computers to connect to the Internet during a flight. And, based on my experience, it was wonderful. I am so disappointed that they have decided to discontinue the service. And I am surprised that they cannot make money out of this service. (According to the Financial Times, it costs $500,000 to equip a plane for this service.)

I was even able to write on this blog while in the air!

British Airways -- Baggage Allowance

Passengers on British Airways should note that BA will be reducing the amount of luggage that passengers can take with them free of charge. To see the new policy, click here.

The policy, which becomes effective on October 11 of this year, includes a charge of GBP 120 for extra bags on long haul flights. These charges are reduced by 20% if you pay in advance on line.

Whenever companies begin to offer less service or want to charge more, I find the way they sugar coat the changes especially irritating. Here is their expanation:

British Airways is introducing changes to baggage policies to make them easier for passengers, reduce queues at the airport and to bring them in line with Department for Transport recommendations and requirements of the UK’s main airport operator, BAA.

And, just in case you were hoping for a free upgrade on your next BA flight, there is a new notice at the check-in desk that advises passengers looking for extra comfort to ask about an upgrade. This makes it very clear that BA is willing to upgrade -- but for a price.

Singapore Airlines -- First Class Wine Service

I recently proposed a scoring system for rating airlines on their wine service. The system is based entirely on price, and, although it is certainly flawed in many ways, it should give the traveler a sense of whether the airline considers offering top wines to first and business class passengers a priority.

For example, if a wine lover has a choice between flying United and Singapore Airlines, the fact that Singapore spends more than twice as much on its wines should help.

I ranked a few airlines, but a reader recently discovered a silly mistake I had made when trying to rate Singapore Airlines. The score, which is the simple sum of the value of its Champagne, its leading white wine, its leading red wine, and its dessert wine should have come to USD 280 rather than USD 250.

With this correction, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are equal in spending more on wine for their first class passengers than any airline I know of.

I would love to hear from readers, who have airline wine lists so that I can add to the airlines I have scored. (I wonder what kinds of wines Emirates is offering these days in First Class!)

To see my scoring system, click here.

To see my score of Singapore Airlines, click here, and for Cathay Pacific, click here. And click here, for my report on United's First Class.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Levante's, Dupont Circle, Washington DC

1320 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

For a Google map, click here.

Levante's is a very nicely appointed Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in the Dupont Circle area in Washington, DC. We decided to stop for a beer and an appetizer before taking the metro home today.

Once we got settled at the bar, I began to wish that we were here for more than just an appetizer. I was pleased to see that they have several beers on tap although Sam Adams is the only one I would not be a little ashamed to drink. The wine list includes offerings from Lebanon, Georgia, and Greece amongst others.

Since we were here for only an appetizer, we decided to have a plate that included an assortment of their cold appetizers ($11.95). This generous plate included Baba Ganouj (pureed grilled eggplant with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil), dolma, feta cheese, tzatziki, hommos, tomatoes, lettuce, and other stuff that I can't remember. It was all fresh and delicious. I particularly liked the Baba Ganouj that tasted smoky from the wood burning grill. This whole dish came with plenty of Levantine bread that is made on the premises.

Other items on the menu include Lamb Shish Kebab ($17.95), Salmon Fillet ($18.95), and Moussaka ($10.50). They have a happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00 pm on weekdays. Drinks and appetizers are at reduced prices (wine, $3.00, calamari $3.95,and hommos ($2.00).

This is a friendly place with good service and very fair prices. They have another branch in the Woodmont Avenue of Bethesda. Recommended, and we will certainly go back for a full meal.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Clay Station, Viognier, 2004

Clay Station, Viognier, 2004

This wine is delicious, and excellent value for money at around $9.00. It has complex flavors of honey, and butterscotch. The fruit is marvellous with notes of peaches, apricots, and passion fruit. I simply love this wine, and will seek it out in the future.

Isabella's, Frederick, MD

42 Market St
Frederick, MD 21701

For a Google map, click here.

Frederick has become a great town to wander around. The building around the canal is just lovely, and we decided to have lunch at Isabella's, a Spanish tapas restaurant right in the center of town. It was perhaps a little unfortunate that we visited Isabella's just a week after going to Jaleo in Bethesda. The food here is certainly adequate to good, but we did leave feeling that is was not nearly as good as Jaleo. Click here for my comments on Jaleo.

We had fried asparagus in a tomato mayonnaise, which were a little greasy, and for around $6.00, it seemed that the profit margin was excessive. We also had a chorizo made of wild boar. It came on a bed of garlic mashed potato in a Rioja sauce, and it was delicious. The were obviously frozen and a little tasteless and chewy. The best dish was a shrimps in a very rich sauce of fava beens with calamaresjamon serrano, Spain's delicious equivalent of prosciutto. A dish of asparagus with crab was also a little greasy, and the crab was not especially tasty.

For dessert we shared a passable chocolate mousse pie surrounded by good fresh berries.

This restaurant serves sangria, but today was very hot so we had mineral water and a couple of beers from their excellent selection of draft beers.

I have had good food here before, and I will probably come back. This was, however, certainly not a special meal, and not nearly as good as Jaleo. The bill with plenty of food for three was about $56.00, and I added $10.00 in recognition of the friendly service with perhaps a few too many enquiries about whether we liked it.

St. Hilaire, Blanquette de Limoux, 2003

I very much like bubbly wine, but frequent drinking of Champagne can get very expensive very quickly. But the alternatives often seem disappointing. I rarely enjoy Spanish Cava, and I have been disappointed by a number of Australian sparkling wines. So when I am in the mood for a sparkling wine, but want to spend less than Champagne, I usually seek out a Californian. (I like the products from Mumm, Chandon, and Piper Sonoma, for example.) An alternative that can be a little bit more difficult to find is Blanquette de Limoux.

I also have a very special affection for this wine because when I was about 12 years old, we took a holiday in the Carcassonne area, and we visited many of the Blanquette makers. So these wineries were the first I ever got to visit!

Last night we had a bottle of the St. Hilaire, 2003. It was simply delicious. Very dry, with apple, pear and citrus flavors. It seemed a little fuller-bodied than I expected, and I wondered whether that was because of the intense heat wave in France in 2003. Highly recommended at only about $10.00 a bottle, and very different from Champagne. (Blanquette de Limoux must be made of at least 90% Mauzac, and the balance is usually Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc while Champagne can be made in any combination of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.)

It is so interesting that the monks in this region claim to have invented what is now called the methode Chamenoise so many years before Dom Perignon came along!

For an account of the carnival in Limoux, take a look at this article.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Jaleo, Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda

7271 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
Tel (301) 913-0003
Fax (301) 913-9137

For a Google map, click here.

During the 25 years that I have lived in the Washington area, Bethesda has really changed. Whereas then, it had the atmosphere of a suburb, today the downtown area is lined with modern restaurants. The weather was gorgeous today, and all the restaurants seem to have facilities on the sidewalk.

I am a little suspicious of tapas bars outside Spain. Often a restaurant that can command about $16.00 a plate will divide the portions into four and charge $8.00, thereby doubling revenue. Sometimes, these tapas have nothing to do with Spain. This place is so good, however, that they can be excused! Besides, the food is genuinely Spanish.

Partly because we had a surfeit of food at home, we stopped just for a couple of tapas. I had a cochinillo ($8.95), a tenderloin of suckling pig surrounded by mushrooms and dried fruits. We also had a Patatas Brava ($4.95), fried cubes of potatatoes with two sauces -- an aioli and a spicy tomato sauce. Terrific bread and olive oil was thrown in and so was a very nice dish of olives, cornichons, and pickled onions.

We washed these tapas down with a very good sangria. Our total bill for the two tapas and half a jarra of Sangria was $25.00

Other items on the menu include croquetas de jamon y pollo ($5.75), pato con peras (duck in a pear sauce) ($7.50), pollo al ajillo ($5.50), and chorizo casero tradicional ($6.50). Go to Jaleo's website for a full list.

I have lived in Spain and traveled around it for years. The food here really tastes like you are in Spain, and the atmosphere is great. On Monday night, they have Sevillanas dancing, and on Tuesdays they have other music. We will definitely return here for a longer and more complete meal.

They have an extensive range of good Spanish wines, including an old favorite Prado Muga Enea, 1995 ($75.00). They have thoughfully sorted their Riojas into Rioja Modernos and Riojas Tradicionales to help diners know whether to expect the traditional light syle of heavily oaked Rioja like Muga or a CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva, 1981 ($95) or a more fruity, full bodied wine, such as the Flor de Pringus, 1996 ($82).

Just in case, this seems that all their wines are on the high end, I did notice that they were selling Las Rocas de San Alejandro. (Click here for my comments) for $32.

They have
other branches in Washington (480 7th Street, NW) and in Crystal City. I have been to the one in Washington, which is equally good in food, service, and atmosphere.

This restaurant is highly recommended. Great food, genuine Spanish food, and great fun!

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Queen Bee, Vietnamese Restaurant, Clarendon, Virginia

Queen Bee
3181 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA

703 527 3444

For a map, click here.

Vietnamese steak is a wonderful dish. There are tender pieces of high quality steak surrounded by lettuce, onion, and coriander. I always order mine rare, and it is consistently delicious at this restaurant.

The cold summer rolls can be ordered with or without pork

The crispy Vietnamese rolls are wonderful. They come with a plate of fresh coriander, and are delicious when wrapped in the herbs and dipped in the fish sauce.

I discovered this neighborhood over twenty years ago when I had an old 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit. We had a wonderful mechanic who was honest, creative, and intelligent. But time was not his thing. As often as not, when you would show up at the appointed hour in the evening to pick up your car, he would need "just another hour," and Iran and I remember long evenings wandering around this Clarendon neighborhood discovering the restaurants. By about 1985, it became known as Little Saigon, and we began to enjoy going to the Queen Bee. The food has always been good here, and it has always been good value for money.

Five of us went out for lunch. The Spring Rolls and the Summer Rolls are memorable, and we were able to order the Summer Rolls without Pork to accommodate Mr. B, who does not eat meat. Four of us ordered the Vietnamese Steak, which consists of chunks of high quality tender beef served in a very light wine reduction. Mr. B ordered shrimps. Our total bill was slightly less than $80 for five of us. (We did not order any alcoholic drinks.)

I have tried some of the many other Vietnamese restaurants in this area, but I keep on going back to the Queen Bee. It is a very nice place with friendly service, low prices, and good food.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Vintage Wine by Michael Broadbent

Vintage Wine
Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wine
Michael Broadbent
Harcourt, 2002

I used to read books about wine all the time, but, more recently, I have tended to read the Wine Spectator to try to make sure that my information about wine is up to date. I was recently at Daedalus Books, a wonderful bookshop (with mail order service) in Columbia, MD, and I found Michael Broadbent's book for only $10.00. I bought it, and it has given me more pleasure than any book that I have read for a long time. (I went to Daedalus yesterday, and noticed one copy left on the shelf. You can also get it from Amazon for about $37.00

Originally trained as an architect, Michael Broadbent entered the wine trade in 1952, but he is most famous for starting and running the wine department at Christie's, the auction house. During the fifty years between his start and 2002, more value must have passed through this man's lips than almost anyone in the world!

Consider for a moment that he sold a bottle of 1787 Lafite, which was owned by Thomas Jefferson, at auction for $105,000. Although that particular bottle became damaged "due to the heat of spotlights" in the Presidential Memorabilia section of the Forbes Museum, Broadbent has tasted this particular vintage of Lafite twice, and he describes the second tasting as "tawny, no red, a dark brown flaky sediment; nose was restrained and although oxidised opened up quite richly with residual fruit traces; a touch of sweetness on the palate and acidic, acetic finish." If you like this kind of stuff, this book draws from 85,000 notes that meticulously describe the wine, the occasion, and an interesting cast of wine drinking companions. No wonder calls Broadbent "a more diligent wine archivist than we wine lovers deserve."

This is the ultimate wine blog and reading it really is a humbling experience for little bloggers like me. Broadbent has had the discipline to make and keep notes thousands of times during a period of fifty years. Another thing that sets him apart is that people like him have the talent, which combines an outstanding palate and extraordinary power of written expression, to document their impressions of wine at the first tasting. In contrast, I rarely feel confident about putting my thoughts about wine into written form until I have tasted a wine at least three times.

Broadbent tastes the best, and he makes no apology for doing so. He explains himself by telling his readers, "My wife, Daphne, and I drink wine every day. Life is short, we do not waste our time on bland indifferent wines; we would rather share half a bottle of something with character and quality than share six bottles of plonk."

A gratifying thing about the book is that Broadbent seems to admire the kinds of wines that I like. The chapters of the book are organized into the major regions of the world with three chapters devoted to single producers, Chateau Musar, Vega Sicilia, and Mas de Daumas Gassac. Like me, he seems particularly fond of that wonderful wine from Lebanon, Chateau Musar, which he describes as "excellent, and distinctive, albeit idiosyncratic."

His amusing anecdotes describe encounters and tastings with the rich and famous, and he provides a list of people at the end of the book for people who have not heard of his friends and professional associates. Like a litany of famous wine lovers, this list includes (among many, many other famous people) Anthony Barton, (owner of Leoville Barton), Jancis Robinson (my favorite wine writer), Andrew Lloyd Webber, Georg Riedel (maker of the famous Riedel glasses), and Robert Mondavi.

The stories include personal moments such as the time he toured Germany on a Vespa motor-scooter with a "laudable ambition, at that time, to make love -- necessarily furtively, and at night -- in a famous vineyard." They also include moments, where, as an honored speaker, he has had to describe horrible wine with tact and diplomacy, such as when he had to talk about Chateau Lafite, 1864, in Memphis, Tennessee:

On decanting, it became obvious that the wine was indeed 'pricked'. In order to save the situation, I smelled the wine and nodding sagely, handed it to my host, John Grisanti, for the first sip. He nodded as if approvingly. I then said: 'This is a very old wine. The grapes for this wine were picked during the autumn of 1864, which was when General Sherman, whose troops were based in Memphis, went marching across Georgia leading his Union troops into battle with the Confederates." I added: "Tonight you are tasting not just wine, but history."

I wondered where he would stand as a British critic and member of the wine trade on the apparent rivalry between the Americans, who favor scoring wine like college essays, and the British, like Hugh Johnson, who always suggest that these scores are absurd. With characteristic tact, Broadbent simply says that the "100-point rating system is flawed because it is inflexible and does not allow for bottle variation and context." He does, however, make a jab at the fashionable cult wines that inevitably suggest some of the wines from California:

Oscar Wilde defined fox hunting as "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." A propos certain 'cult' wines and modern 'global' reds, I am inclined to change the last word to "undrinkable."

Is Broadbent talking about Parkerized wines here?

I adore this book, and I admit to being a bit of an oddball in my passion for wine, but, if you think you might enjoy going through notes of the world's ultimate wine written by the world's ultimate critic, you must buy this book.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Airline Wine Report : Continental Airlines (Business) Class scores 62

This report uses the approach to scoring airline wine service described here.

These were the leading wines served in Business Class on Continental during June, 2006.

Champagne: Charles Lafitte NV $30
White wine: Chateau Lapugeau $14
Red Wine: Chateau Lalande, 2002 $8
Dessert wine: Quinto do Noval $10

Total Score: 62

I must admit that I have not flown Continental in years, and I based these scores on information on their web site. I had not heard of many of their wines and could not get prices on them. Usually, I regard an airline's Bordeaux wines as their "leader" but I could not get any information on their red Bordeaux.

This is the lowest score I have made since looking at this issue, and, based on this information, I would avoid flying Continental.

Incidentally, Continental uses the spelling Bourdeaux on their site. Everybody has typographical errors, but I suspect that this one reflects their interest in wine.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mount Washington Pizza, Indian Cuisine

Mount Washington Pizza
1620 Kelly Avenue
Mount Washington
Baltimore, 21209

410 664 1111

For a Google map, click here.

If you asked me where you could get a good Indian meal to take away in Baltimore and I sent you to Mount Washington Pizza, you might think that I had not heard the question.

But the truth is that you can get very good Indian food from this busy pizza shop. They have good vegetable samosas ($2.25), but I find the meat ones ($2.95) a little bit dry.

The Shrimp Masala ($12.45) is very good indeed. Other dishes that I have enjoyed include Lamb Shahi Korma ($11.45), Lamb Vindaloo ($11.45), Chicken Korma ($10.95). The portions are enormous and rice is included. You can also get papadams ($1.00), Raita ($1.95), and Vegetable Pakora ($2.25).

You can sit down and eat, but this restaurant is not big on atmosphere. I usually call my orders in and pick it up.

They also seem to have a thriving business in pizzas, subs, and hamburgers, but the Indian food is so good that I always ignore that part of the menu.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

It's only a drink!

If you want to hurt a wine lover, interrupt a discussion about wine, and remind them that "it's only a drink." This will offend a wine lover very deeply; you will never be forgiven; and it will be decided there and then that you are a complete idiot.

At a certain moment in their lives, wine lovers have had a mind altering experience, and they make a vow to revere and honor this wonderful liquid for ever. (I almost wrote drink.) Imagine a friend that you have not seen for a long time, and when you meet you find (s)he has fallen in love. One of your first questions is how they met. So it is with wine. The Wine Spectator regularly publishes a column where they interview a celebrity who loves wine. The response is almost predictable, and it almost always goes something like this:

Well, I was a beer drinker, and then I was at this dinner given by Even More Famous Person. They were pouring Chateau Mouton Rothschild, 1959. [Robert Parker rates this with 100 points!] And that was a turning moment for me. And since then I have built a cellar with probably more wine than I can drink in my lifetime.

People sometimes ask me why I am so fond of Bordeaux in general, and of the wines of Pauillac in particular, and it all goes back to my own turning moment in about 1972. I had received one of my first pay checks, and decided to celebrate with a nice bottle of wine. So I went to Berry Brothers & Rudd in St. James's Street in London. A very helpful assistant talked to me about wine for about half an hour, and he finally sold me a bottle of Chateau Batailley, 1966.

And when I shared the bottle with some friends, I almost went into a swoon. I marveled at how fruit could be turned into such magical liquid. Like a drug addict looking to recreate that first "high", I live for the moments that approximate the taste of that Batailley.

Although this was certainly a good wine, it certainly was not a great wine. Batailley was classified as a fifth growth in the classification of Bordeaux in 1855, and it is generally agreed that it is consistent and reliable, bur not a wine that bowls you over. Like most wines in the Medoc, the vineyards are dominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (70%). The balance is Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Petit Verdot (2%). But this was my first experience with serious wine on which I really focused my attention.

I was reminded again of the Chateau Batailley because I decided to spend an hour this morning browsing around that excellent bookshop in Columbia, Daedalus Books. I came across a really interesting book by Michael Broadbent, a Master of Wine, and for years the head of the wine department at Christies. The book is called, Vintage Wine, and it intrigued me because it collects notes accumulated through "fifty years of tasting three centuries of wines," and I wondered what he wrote about the 1966 vintage of Batailley.

Always dependable, certainly very good, possibly at its best in 1966 beause its comfortably fruity style enriches the leanness of the vintage. Still fairly deep; a leafy arboreal nose -- or perhaps it was the influence of Hugh Johnson's arboretum -- which opened up deliciously. Rich and moderately mouthfilling, with attractive Cabernet Sauvignon to the end taste.

Certainly it was not the 1959 Mouton, which he describes as "magnificence piled upon magnificence," but Chateau Batailley was the wine that changed my life, and I have been a devoted follower of the grape ever since.

Incidentally, in 1972, I paid 1.95 UK pounds for the Batailley, which seemed like an enormous amount then particularly if you consider that a pint of bitter at the time cost around 12p. So I was paying about the equivalent of 16 pints for my bottle of Batailley. Today a pint of beer goes for around 2.50 UK pounds, and Berry's sells half bottles of the 2000 vintage at 12.77 UK pounds, the equivalent of 25.33 pounds a bottle. So, even though we all complain about the price of wine today, it costs only the same price as 10 pints of beer, a bargain compared to the 1972 price! Interesting!

I would love to hear about readers' magical moments. What was the wine that turned you from being a wine drinker to a wine lover determined to spend the rest of your life in pursuit of that perfect glass? Or is wine, for you, just another drink?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Mas Amiel Maury Cuvée Speciale 10 ans d'âge

It was the last day of a wonderful vacation. We had flown from the United States to Nice, where we rented a car. Then we went to Cinqueterre in Italy, where we met our dear friend, Mr. W. After about a week of wandering around Cinqueterre, we spent a few days touring Tuscany. We spent a couple of days in Florence, and then headed back to Nice.

I spent the last day of the vacation with my younger daughter, H, who was about 14 wandering around Nice. We spent the last night at the wonderful Hotel Atlantic. In Nice, we discovered a great wine shop, where I explained to the owner the wine I wanted to take back home to America. The wine should not be too expensive; it had to be interesting; and it had to be something that was not easy to find in the United States. At the time, I was interested in discovering sweet wines, but I was not especially interested in Sauternes because that is easily found at my local liquor store in Maryland.

The owner of the shop was a wonderful man and obviously passionate about wine. He seemed impressed that I liked some of the less famous but wonderful wines from France like Bonnezeaux. But his main concern seemed to surround H's eating habits.

I know you live in America, he said, but I hope you do not feed this child at McDonald's. I assured him that I did not, and he asked H what kind of food she liked, and when she admitted that she was partial to seared
foie gras, he roared in approval.

I will never forget this man because he really educated me by selling me a bottle of the Mas Amiel Maury Cuvée Speciale 10 ans d'âge, which I kept carefully stashed away until last Saturday.

Eat this with a very good chocolate cake, my new friend instructed. It is not often that there is a good chocolate cake on the table, a group of people interested in trying something completely different, and enough people to consume a full bottle of a fairly strong dessert wine. (Mas Amiel is 16.5% alcohol.) But all those stars were in alignment of Saturday, and we opened the bottle.

This wine is very different from almost anything I have ever had although if I were forced to compare it with anything, it would be Port. The wine comes from Maury, which is not far from Perpignan. Fermentation is arrested through the addition of grape spirit, which accounts for the high alcohol content. The grapes used are about 80% Grenache, and the balance is Mourvedre and Syrah. It starts life with a year in large glass demijohns, called bonbonnes, and then it goes into barrels for nine years. There is no vintage date on the bottle.

It had a mahogany color, a thick texture, and very luscious cherry flavors. There were also subtle cocoa, coffee, caramel, spice, and wood flavors, and you could still taste the tannins in this wine. It had a good long finish and the tast lingered on.

I have not seen this wine in America, but I believe that it can be found, and it costs around $22.00, which is a bargain for such a good and interesting wine. If you see it, buy it and then go and find the chocolate cake!

Le Mannequin Pis, Olney, MD

Le Mannequin Pis
18064 Georgia Avenue
Olney, MD 20832

301 570 4800

For a Google map, click here

Don't be put off by this dreary strip mall on the intersection of Georgia Avenua and Route 108. The front of this restaurant does not look like much, but, in many ways, this is the closest you can get to a real European restaurant in the Washington, DC area. Perhaps it is the combination of wonderdul food with something of a "take it or leave it" attitude, but once you are inside this restaurant you feel transported to another world.

It specializes in Mussels, which are cooked in 16 different ways plus a special of the evening. You get a kilo of them, and they are accompanied by delicious frites ($16.95). (The menu reminds you not to even ask for any substitutions.) For my main course, I had a delicious beef stew braised in Belgian beers with another order of the frites (($17.95). The others both had steak, which was also excellent (and served with frites!) The specials offered more adventurous food than we ate (skate, bison, etc).

An amazing finale was the pot au chocolat, which all three of us shared. It was dense, dark, rich Belgian chocolate, and totally magnificent.

We did not have wine, but chose terrific Belgian beers from their long list. (Alas, they do not have a draft beer).

The menu announces that they do not aim to cater for vegetarians or children although we did see some happy looking children here. They also say that they do not allow people to use cell phones in the restaurant. And another note in the restaurant apologizes for the high prices of drink, which they blame on Montgomery County.

This is a lovely restaurant. Highly recommended. The bill without tip for three including an orangina and three beers was $113.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Airline Wine Report : United Business scores 85

This report uses the approach to scoring airline wine service described here.

A more complete description of this flight can be found by clicking

These were the leading wines served on Flight UA925 from London (LHR) to Washington (IAD) on February 12, 2006.

  • Champagne: Duval Leroy NV $30
  • White wine: Laboure Roi, Chablis (Vintage not written on menu) $15
  • Red Wine: Chateau Lalande, 2002 $23
  • Dessert wine: Sandemans Founder's Reserve $17
  • Total Score: 85

This is in line with the score given to Virgin Atlantic, which got 82 for its Upper Class product. I had some difficulty figuring out the price on the Lalande, which I disliked. Also, the Chablis (delicious) was hard to price.

On this flight, I really did not like the Lalande very much, and find its description very strange:

"Bordeaux remains the emblem for elegant red wine and finesse is its hallmark. The 2002 vintage is a far better example of that ability than the more famous 2000 and 2003 vintages, and Chateau Lalande has crafted a powerful but stylish wine."

Despite the higher score, I think the wine esperience on Virgin would have been a better one because I think the wines seemed more cleverly and imaginatively chosen. It just shows the limitation of numerical scores!

Also, compare the scores with Singapore Airlines, which got 121 for its Business Class product.