Saturday, April 9, 2016

Portugal Wine Adventure- Part IV : Porto

By Don Nunn

(Join Don Nunn next year in Bordeaux - Click Here for PDF flyer)

Porto is the name known around the world as the place where Port comes from.  However, the Port Lodges are actually across the Douro River from Porto, in a predominately industrial area called Vila Nova de Gaia.  As a sweet, after dinner dessert wine, Port is familiar to virtually everyone.  Port is, however, so much more than that.

Having spent the third night of the trip at the forested Bussaco Palace Hotel, we once again headed north the next morning, a short drive of only 65 miles to our destination.  Porto (also known as Oporto) resides at the mouth of the Douro River as it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  The Douro River has a total length of over 550 miles, most of it in northern Spain.  Called the Duero in Spain, the River actually forms about 70 miles of the Portuguese/Spanish border before turning to flow almost directly west through northern Portugal.  The heart of the Douro River Valley in Portugal is from the small town of Pinhão for the final 80 miles of its journey to Porto and the Atlantic Ocean.  Pinhão, and several other small towns, are located along the River in the upper Douro Valley, where all of the Quintas (Vineyard Estates) are located.  The Quintas grow the grapes that later make their way down river to Porto for barrel aging, bottling and shipping.

Douro River and Dom Luis Bridge

Arriving mid-afternoon at our second Pousada, the Palacio do Freixo in Porto, I was anxious to get checked in and proceed across the Douro River to partake in a little Port tasting.  Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, with a population of around 1.5 million people in its general metropolitan area.  Porto’s existence dates back, as do an amazing number of locales throughout the European Continent, to Roman times, when it was a frontier outpost.  Although my general proclivity is to avoid large cities as much as possible, I understandably wanted to do some port tasting, and this was the place.  Although I have driven in giant metropolitan areas (Paris, Istanbul, Barcelona – each of them being an interesting adventure with a tale to tell after the experience), my travels have taught me that it is preferable to leave the automobile at the hotel, and utilize some other mode of transportation when sightseeing within the city.

The Douro River, at this point almost to the end of its journey to the Atlantic Ocean, ambled its way leisurely past one side of the Palacio do Freixo.  After check-in and depositing the luggage in the room, a taxi was called to pick us up at the front door of the Palacio.  I had intentionally chosen the location of the Palacio for its proximity to the Port Lodges.  Although there are some accommodations to be found in Vila Nova de Gaia, I knew that the Pousada would fit our desired lodging profile.  Although not as characterful as the Castle at Obidos and several of the other historical Pousada’s visited later in the trip, the location could not have been better.

The taxi was helmed by a sixty something Portuguese fellow, on the plump side, his visage well-worn by life’s experiences.  Our Palacio doorman issued instructions to the driver, but undoubtedly the vast majority of the tourist taxi rides from the Pousada had the Port Lodges as a destination.  Ah, but which Port Lodge!

Graham's Tasting Room

The Palacio, as it happened, had a networking relationship with Graham’s Port Lodge across the River in Vila Nova de Gaia.  A short ride of no more than two miles took us to the double decked, metal arched Dom Luis Bridge, which at the time of its construction in the first half of the 1880’s was the longest bridge of its type in the world.  Once across the River, a right turn leads almost immediately to an Avenue lined with Port Lodges on one side and a quai along the Douro River on the other side.  Names such as Ramos Pinto, Sandeman, Quinta do Noval, and Calém, both familiar and unknown to me, identified the purveyors.

The taxi driver spoke no English, and I spoke no Portuguese that was of assistance to me at that moment.  Nevertheless, I said “Graham’s”, a name that was instantly recognizable to him, but which did not please him.  I was aware that Graham’s was not along the Avenida, but a little farther on, and up a rather steep hill.  As we conversed unintelligibly with one another, it became clear that our driver was of a mind to deposit us along the river side “strip” where the bulk of the Lodges and tourists were located.  I held fast for Graham’s.

Our taxi driver reluctantly accommodated, complaining in Portuguese the entire additional five minutes it took to reach Graham’s.  The basis for his objection remains a mystery, as the taxi was equipped with the ubiquitous meter reflecting the fare, so I was unable to ascertain what difference it made to him.  While he called to mind Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs, it was simply another travel adventure to me and I recall it with amusement rather than as a negative experience.  His crusty demeanor probably had more to do with his occupation than his nationality, as the overwhelming majority of Portuguese encountered on the trip were exceedingly pleasant.

Graham’s was indeed located up a very steep hill, and we arrived after negotiating a series of winding streets.  While the Graham’s Lodge was constructed in 1890, it was completely renovated and re-inaugurated by the President of Portugal in 2013.  The Graham’s tasting room promotional flyer stamped and initialed by my hotel concierge magically opened doors and was reminiscent of an E ticket ride at Disneyland in the 60’s.  Upon arriving at the reception desk and exhibiting our special admission credential, we were privately escorted around the parties awaiting tours, into and through the general tasting room, and seated in an exclusive elevated area with upholstered arm chairs instead of tasting room stools, immediately in front of a giant picture window with an incredible view looking directly at the Douro River and the Dom Luis Bridge we had just crossed.

Tasting at Graham's Port Lodge

Our personal hostess then poured our tasting samples of four year old Ruby Port, ten year old Tawny Port, and twenty year old Tawny Port, accompanied with educational information on each.  This, as the idiom goes, is as good as it gets – a couple of comfortable hours tasting Port samples in a beautiful tasting room, in a private area devoid of other visitors, gazing at the magnificent view of the Douro River in southern Europe on a sunny September  afternoon, soaking up the international ambience.

In our next segment, we will explore the Port tasting experience, a little history of Port, and offer up a special treat - an audio link of Graham’s Vintage Room host, Vasco, providing us with a tutorial on the differences between Ruby, Tawny, and Vintage Ports, and the special qualities of each. 

(Join Don Nunn next year in Bordeaux - Click Here for PDF flyer)

Monday, March 28, 2016


JOIN DON NUNN, TASTE OF WINE TV WRITER ON A FABULOUS RIVER CRUISE THROUGH THE VINEYARDS OF BORDEAUX FRANCE IN APRIL OF 2017. is pleased to offer our dedicated readers, courtesy of its newest wine travel writer Don Nunn, a special discounted pricing opportunity for an April 2017 River Cruise in Bordeaux, France.









This River Cruise provides an outstanding travel opportunity to obtain intimate acquaintance with the fabulous Bordeaux wine producing region of France on a specifically wine themed cruise aboard a luxury boutique vessel.  This Cruise will be April 13-20, 2017, embarking from and returning to Bordeaux.
With many famous wine terroirs in France, Bordeaux is undeniably the granddaddy of all wine destinations in the world.  Without exaggeration, Bordeaux stands alone at the top of the list of the world’s most celebrated wine producing regions.
Bordeaux is located on the mighty Garonne River, just before it enters the Gironde Estuary.  The Gironde Estuary is the largest in Europe, and is formed when the Dordogne River to the north meets up with the Garonne River just northwest of Bordeaux.  The Gironde Estuary is fifty miles long as the confluence of the two rivers flows into the Atlantic Ocean.  At the mouth of the Estuary it is almost 8 miles wide.  This Bordeaux River Cruise will explore famous wine appellations on both banks of the Estuary, as well as well as Libourne and Saint Émilion on the Dordogne River and Bordeaux and Cadillac on the Garonne River.


Bordeaux worldwide name recognition is due to its wines, being the world’s wine industry capital.  It is also a major seaport and capital of the Aquitaine region of Southwestern France.  Bordeaux has been producing wine since the 8th century.
From Cadillac, on the Garonne River, there will be an opportunity to taste the famous sweet wines of the Sauterne appellation nearby, and to visit Roquetaillade Castle.  Château de Roquetaillade  has a historical connection to many famous names, including Charlemagne, who built the first fortification here, and Viollet-le-Duc, who was in charge of the complete restoration of the “new” Roquetaillade Castle (originally constructed in the early 1300’s) in the 1860’s.  The Château has been owned by the same family for over 700 years, but is open to the public.

You might wonder if there is a connection between the name of this village and our well known automobile of the same name.  The French village was named by Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur (sir) de Cadillac (born in the area), who came to the new world as an explorer in the 1680’s, rose to importance, later founded Detroit, and was the Governor of Lousiana (at the time a very large area of what later became the eastern and central part of the United States) from 1710-1716.  The Cadillac division of General Motors, and Cadillac, Michigan, are both named after him.
Located on the west bank of the Grionde Estuary, the Pauillac appellation contains several of the most famous names in the wine world, among them Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, and Chateaux Latour.  The predominant grape varietal in Pauillac is Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, as in much of the Bordeaux Region, most of the wines contain small amounts of one or two other varietals for a blend that the British refer to as Claret, as did James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, when he was served with his “Bombe Surprise”.  Grand Cru Classé wine tasting will, of course, be on the “Menu”.
Blaye is located on the east bank of the estuary, roughly opposite Pauillac.  This area is hillier than the Medoc region across the estuary.  Red, white, and rosé wines are produced in this area.
Located on the Dordogne River, there will be on April 18 a choice of several shore excursions, from Château exploration, to visiting a Bastide Town and traditional market,  to Fronsac Appellation wine tasting.  
On April 17, there will be an excursion to Saint Émilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Saint Émilion is a must see medieval village full of character and charm.  Hundreds of miles of underground caves have been excavated over the centuries for storing the wine produced in the vicinity.  There are many interesting shops to visit, and a Roman road runs right through the vineyards just outside of the village.  There will be Grand Cru Classé wine tasting (the best of the best).  I am incredibly excited to have this opportunity to return to Saint Émilion.

If you do your own research you will find that AmaWaterways is highly rated, receiving professional reviewer comments such as best value for cruise dollar, newest ships, larger cabins, and better food.
Cruise Lines typically offer significant discounts for bookings made well in advance; and for the services offered, the value is outstanding, especially if booked by April 30 of 2016.  Earlier booking also means greatest stateroom choice.  And on a boutique river cruise you won’t be overwhelmed by hordes of passengers.  This French River Cruise represents an amalgam of opportunity to taste and learn more about the unsurpassable wines of Bordeaux, visit beautiful and interesting French destinations, including castles and medieval villages, obtain insight and consult with wine experts, and enjoy fine dining, all while traveling in comfort on this specifically wine themed cruise.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Along Temecula’s De Portola Wine Trail

by Frank Mangio
During my peripatetic years pursuing the ultimate “TASTE OF WINE,” I have been privileged to immerse myself in some world-class places. Eye popping scenery abounds in such luminary spots like the “Chiantigiana” wine highway in Tuscany , the Loire Valley in France and the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley . These and a few other heavenly locations all have one thing in common… they provide a setting to help the wine experience be what it is:  a romantic, naturally lovely, life enhancing experience. The De Portola Wine Trail, part of the larger wine country of Temecula, has the elements in place to someday be in the select company of other must-see rural wine districts.

BJ Fazeli, a successful Orange County businessman with a passionate love of his Persian heritage and its history of wine, felt the urge to be a part of the De Portola Trail and 9 years ago, purchased land for vineyards and a Persian style winery.

Wine columnist Frank Mangio with BJ Fazeli of Fazeli Cellars on
Temecula’s De Portola Trail.

He opened just a few months ago, making Fazeli the 10th winery on the trail.  “We enjoy many celebrations and special events as well as our carefully crafted wines that are mostly blends with great stories to tell,” he said.  “Fazeli has daily food service from 12 to 5pm with a menu that pairs well with all of our wines.  We produce 15,000 cases currently, 16 reds, 5 whites and 1 Rose.”
When you visit, try the 2012 Shiraz ( same as Syrah) with its silky, black current  with accented vanilla ( $48.)  See more at

Next to Fazeli on the De Portola Trail is Robert Renzoni Vineyards with predominantly Italian style wines, that were featured in last week’s top 8 great tastes for 2016.  These wines are true to form with an abundance of old world flavors.  Robert  especially spends a lot of time and energy on his blends, reflecting his family’s heritage along the Adriatic coast.  Brunello, the elite Sangiovese clone from the south of Tuscany , plays a major role in the wines he produces.  Learn more at

Our next stop was The Cave at Oak Mountain Winery and a visit with owner Valerie Andrews.  It was with a sense of great pride that she explained  that “Steve my husband and winemaker, did most all the custom design and creation of the 10,000 square foot cave, over 100 feet below ground with a 65 degree temperature and no air conditioning energy lost. “ Other energy saving techniques with water and lighting make this an environmental triumph. All wine barrels are stored in the Cave, and all banquets and food service are offered  in the Cave.  6,500 cases were made last year, including small lots of sparking wine. All operations are family managed.  The full story is at

 Valerie Andrews, owner of the only mined wine cave in Southern California, with Wendy Evers, Executive Director of Program Development at Cal State University San Marcos.

I was happy to introduce Wendy Evers,  the new Executive Director of Program Development  at Cal State University in San Marcos , to the De Portola Trail wineries.  She presented the new CSUSM Professional Certificate for Wine, Beer and Spirits Specialist  program, which will allow adults to develop and strengthen  their skills and pursue careers within these growing industries.  It will be unique because classes will be held at the wineries, breweries and distilleries, with lectures and tastings.  Each course is 5 weeks, 3 hours a day, one day a week.  First class will be Foundations of Wine, Thursdays, June 2nd to June 30th. For more information on dates and locations, call 800-500-9377, or visit

Wine Bytes
Twenty/20, at the Sheraton Hotel in Carlsbad , presents Tapas night starting Thurs. Apr. 7th from 5:30 to 8pm.  Live Spanish guitarist.  Tapas cooking on the terrace. For more information call 760-827-2500.

Sbicca’s in Del Mar is planning a wine and food experience: comfort food and California classic wines, Sat. Apr. 9th from 1 to 3:30pm.  Multi-course pairings, served family style. 5 wines served.   $75. pp.  Details at 858-442-2749.

The Rhone Valley, Provence and the French Riviera are explored at RELM Wine & Beer Bistro’s two “meetups” in Carlsbad , Tues. Apr. 5th from 7 to 9pm and Sat. Apr. 23rd from 4 to 6pm. Sommelier Dave Andersson will guide guests through paired tastings of the areas vs. similar domestic wines. There will be a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, plus a travel discussion.  $35. ea.  Pre register at

Best of Breed Wine Tasting 1st Quarter 2016

by Frank Mangio
Since the TASTE OF WINE release of its Top Ten Tastes of 2015, we have reviewed over 400 wines the first few months of 2016 and found lots to cheer about. Many were from the outstanding 2012 and 2013 vintages, so the only thing I found difficult was limiting my picks to 8 to fit into the space of the column.

Napa Valley again showed why it is the most prestigious wine country in the world.  Half the choices were from this blessed part of California .  Although Napa Valley is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, this list shows diversity with Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as Cabernet. Price quotes are the best I could find and the list is shown alphabetically with no regard for ranking.  They are all equally excellent.
Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley, 2012.  $26.99.  Dan Duckhorn’s focus for his winery has always been to make Merlot his signature wine varietal, after many trips to Bordeaux France .  “I like the softness, the seductiveness, the color and the fact it goes with many foods so well,”he said.  A slight blend of Cabernet gives it depth and structure.

Frank Family Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, 2013.  $26.99.  Pinot Noir is the current “Glamour Queen” of the reds.  Sometimes testy and not for all vineyards, but when done right it’s a sensual, lush and savory wine, with cherry/berry and complimentary fig notes.  This wine was awarded overall best wine at the most recent  “East Meets West” Wine Challenge with 1,300 wines in competition, in Santa Rosa.

Frank Family of Napa Valley displaying some of their award winning wines
including the 2013 Pinot Noir.

 Grgich Hills Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2013.  $43.  This is a pre release and should be ready for purchase in May.  Mike Grgich is celebrating the 40th year of the “ Paris Tasting” when, in 1976, his 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay bested all the Chardonnays that the French could offer.  Since then he has been called “the King of Chardonnay” and the accolade is never more true than in the 2013 vintage, with its natural acidity, tropical flavors and notes of minerality.

Maison Nicolas Perrin Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone Valley France.  2013.  $20.  Who says fine French wines have to be expensive.  I increasingly look to the Rhone Valley .  This ruby red Syrah exudes intense fruit and racy herbs and spice.  Earthy finish.

Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, Piedmont Italy. 2012. $24.  This wine offers a great opportunity to enjoy a leading grape, Barbera, without a hefty price tag that you’ll see in the Barolo and Barberesco.  This Piedmont ’s go-to red wine is for daily dinners, especially the pastas and risottos.

Quivira Black Boar Zinfandel, Dry Creek Sonoma, 2013. $45.  One of the finest terroirs for Zinfandel, producing excellent balance for the sizeable alcohol, found in all great Zins.  A range of aromas and flavors due to various stages of harvest.  The Black Boar breed of Zin spent 17 months in  customary 60 gallon French oak barrels, as well as 132 gallon barrels and 900 gallon foudres. A distinct swagger to this wine.

Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2012. $27.  This is a reserve selection wine.  Look for this distinctive description when you go to buy, and make sure it’s a 2012. Nice balance of fruit forward qualities, with a hint of chocolate.

Robert Renzoni Sonata, Temecula Valley, 2013.  $45. Hard to choose a”best of” with the list of varietals from this foremost maker of Italian wines. From a true to form Tuscan Sangiovese, a delicious Montepulciano and several Brunello blends, we chose the Sonata, a Super Tuscan style wine with 50% estate Cabernet and 50% estate Brunello di Sangiovese.  Aged 20 months in French oak. Lots of family tradition here.

Robert Renzoni, owner and winemaker, tasting new releases with
Assistant winemaker Olivia Bue, at Robert Renzoni Vineyards in Temecula.

 Wine Bytes
Sommelier Gino Campbell of PAON in Carlsbad has set his wine events to a new level of quality with his tasting for Wed. March 30 from 6 to 8pm, when he offers the Grand Cru’s of Burgundy .  $200. per person. Call 760-729-7377.  He’s also created a new wine list of over 900 labels with some of the most sought-after wines.

Vittorio’s of Carmel Valley has a 5 course food and wine dinner with Taken wines, Thurs. March 31st at 6pm.  The menu features braised short rib Tortellaci and roasted Prime Rib Au Jus.  $49.50 ea.  Call 858-538-5884.

The 4rd annual Vin Diego happens Fri. Apr. 1 and Sat. Apr. 2. Over 300 new wines with gourmet appetizers. Wines from California , Oregon and Washington .  Fri. night 6 to 8:30pm is the Passion for Pinot and Reserve Chardonnay, and Sat. 3 to 7pm the Grand Tasting.  All events at Liberty Station in San Diego ’s Point Loma. See for prices and details.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

French Wine from the Rhone Valley, Ooh-la-la!

by Frank Mangio
I received a quickie education about Rhone Valley wines when, a number of years ago,  I trekked along with a press group up to the rapidly expanding wine country of Paso Robles, where a large contingent of wineries who are  Rhone Valley admirers, like to call themselves the “Rhone Rangers.”

They mostly farmed the stylish Rhone grapes like Syrah and Grenache, with a few trying  Mourvedre and Viognier.  All the while I was trying to get a handle on the more famous French Bordeaux and Burgundy areas. Fast forward to today and the shifting tastes of the wine consuming public, and we find that Bordeaux ( all blends) and Burgundy ( Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) have been outdistanced by the West Coast of the U.S. in popularity and taste, while in the southeast of France lies a wine country of increasing size and importance.  It’s the 250 mile Rhone Valley , that follows the Rhone river from Lyon in the north, to the southern coast of France , into the Mediterranean near the city of Marsielle .

The “Holy Hill” monument showing the steep Chapoutier Vineyards
overlooking Hermitage and the Rhone River .

 The Rhone Valley is no recent discovery.  The Estruscans, a pre-Roman Italian tribe introduced wine to the French about 500 BC.  The evolution of wine in that part of France has been widespread with a wide range of varietals, including Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne in the north. In the south, look for Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan.

Max Kogod operates Kogod Wine Merchant that markets Rhone Valley wines among others, to the on line consumer. He loves the freshness and bigness of the Rhone Valley.  “The Rhone Valley is really several districts united by the Rhone River ,” he observed.  “In the north there are very steep slopes of granite soil and much cooler weather.  This is Syrah country from the Cote-Rotie to Hermitage. “

Frank Mangio enjoys a rare Guillaume Gilles Cornas 2008 Syrah from the Rhone Valley,
poured by Max Kogod of Kogod Wine Merchant of Encinitas.

I asked Kogod how the southern Rhone Valley differed from the north. He replied that “the terroir of the south is made up of large river rocks in the vineyards. The weather is warmer and the topography near sea level.  Grenache is the lead grape here and the marquee wine is Chateauneuf du Pape which can be 100% Grenache, but more likely it’s a blend in combination with Mourvedre and Syrah, which supply the punch and tannins.  The rocky terrain provides vine struggle, resulting in more structure and power. I love the 2010 vintage. The fruit, acidity and freshness is without comparison.”

The Languedoc wine district is the largest wine district in France and lies southwest of the Rhone . Chateau De Paraza, a favorite of a friend who visits frequently, reports that the wines were full bodied and full of beautiful red fruit in the 2013 vintage. Most wines are in the $20. to $30. range in Languedoc , making them very reasonably priced. She went during the harvest of 2015 and reported that “2015 is promising a very good vintage.  Spring rains combined with a very hot summer  with just enough irrigation, led to healthy grapes ready to reach maturity for the picking period.”

Try the Domaine de Paraza Syrah 2013.  It’s a deep Ruby color, with hints of dark fruit and black currants. The result is a voluptuous and delectable wine, with a subtle spicy finish. To learn more about the Languedoc and Chateau De Paraza, go to  For more on Kogod Wine Merchant, visit, or call 310-387-5104.

Wine Bytes
Hill Family Estate of Napa Valley will be hosting a wine dinner at the Pearl Hotel in San Diego Tues. March 22 from 6:30 to 9pm.  Ryan Hill of the winery will be presenting 4 great Hill wines with a four course dinner. Cost is $70. pp.  Call 503-984-5243 for an RSVP.

The new Wine Lover Urban Winery in the Hillcrest district of San Diego has a “Walk Through Spain” wine event Sat. March 26 from 5 to 7pm.  Five Spanish wines and a full cheese bar are featured.  Spanish wine specialist Kim Rouse presents.  $35. for non-wine club members, $30. for members.  Details at 619-294-9200.

A special Easter Champagne Brunch is planned at the Pinnacle Restaurant at Falkner Winery in Temecula.  Pinnacle has been voted “Best Restaurant” in Riverside County ’s top magazine. Many Mediterranean style dishes on the menu with multiple food stations, from 10:30am to 3:30pm.  Live music. Guests over 21 will receive a complimentary glass of Champagne .  Cost is $54.95. Club members are $49.95.  RSVP at 951-676-8231, x 4. from 10am to 3:30pm.

A rare Nebbiolo Wine Dinner will be presented at Cucina Enoteca Del Mar, Thurs. March 31 at 7pm.  This is a 4 course dinner paired with 7 excellent wines from Piedmont Italy,  highlighted by a 2004 Barbaresco,  and presented by Kogod Wine Merchant and Executive Chef Joe Magnanelli. Cost is $135. all inclusive. Contact, or call  310-387-5104.

Gelson’s Markets Open with “Top Shelf” Wines

by Frank Mangio
The subject has been kicked around like an old can ever since I started writing on wine.  Large chain markets are moving into the “try before you buy” format in their wine departments, with in-store wine bars boosting traffic and sales on the weekend.

It seemed like idle talk, until a series of market turnovers brought a new name to the San Diego area, with bright new ideas about wine. Gelson’s, a Southern California market chain, most recently opened in Del Mar and Carlsbad to much fanfare.

The new Gelson’s markets are introducing wine tasting bars next to their wine departments. The Del Mar location is shown.

 When the Gelson’s in Del Mar opened in January, its Grand Opening direct mail piece came out with several pages devoted to what I call “top shelf” wines.  In most wine retailers, the top shelf, at eye level,  shows their premium inventory of well known, acclaimed wines.  The bottom shelves usually show inexpensive, high volume, even “jug” wines.

Gelson’s doesn’t seem to hold to that old ritual.  A personal message from their Senior Director of Wine Buying cheerfully lays out a policy of distinctive selection of wines with “high marks, craftsmanship and value.” The message points out that “if you need help, you can rely on Gelson’s Certified Wine Specialists to assist in selecting the perfect wines.”  Help is in evidence at the Del Mar location with the sight of a handsome wine bar offering free tasting and wine education Fridays from 3:30 to 6pm and Saturdays from 2 to 5pm.  The Carlsbad location, which opened February 18th, will have its wine bar open soon.

A closer look at some “top shelf” names included: Banfi, Duckhorn, Grgich, Frank Family, Opus One, Raymond, Justin and last month’s TASTE OF WINE wine of the month, Stone Street. Gelson’s also has a buy six, mix or match, and get 10% off the lowest marked price on the bottle.  A nice touch is the wood-crafted Gelson’s wine gift boxes.
Visit their site at

Napa Valley Vintners Raise $5 Million at Annual Auction  

The Napa Valley Vintners recently presented its 20th  annual Premier Napa Valley barrel tasting and auction  resulting in  a $5 Million fundraising total, among the biggest amounts raised in its history.  Interest was high for the 2014 harvest, which would be the third consecutive premium vintage, that includes 2012 and 2013.

Auctioneer Fritz Hatton bangs the gavel  at the 2016 annual
Premier Napa Valley auction that raised $5 million.

 There were 226 lots sold, mostly 2014’s from some top names.  A new feature this year was the opportunity for a vast viewing audience to place their bids on- line at the auction for an exclusive number of wine offerings.

Some names you’ll know at the auction included:  Rombauer, Shafer, Duckhorn, Silver Oak and ZD. Napa Valley Vintners is a non profit trade association of 525 members producing wines of the highest quality.  Learn more at

Wine Bytes

§         Italian wine flavors abound at Seasalt Seafood Bistro during Italian wine night with celebrity presenter Marco Barat, Wed. March 23 at 6pm.  Feudi Di San Gregorio in Southern Italy is spotlighted in this 5 course Mediterranean flavored menu.  This is an enchanting night, for just $55. ea.  Call 858-755-7100 for an RSVP.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Your Travel Specialist

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Carefree Vacations
1084 N El Camino Real, Suite C
Encinitas, California 92024
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Fax: 760.479.1743
Visit us online at

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Portugal Wine Adventure - Part III

by Don Nunn

On the morning of day three, I point the white Renault Megane rental car northeastward with the destination being the forested region where the Bussaco Palace Hotel (Buçaco in old Portuguese) resides in splendor.  On the way to Bussaco, we made a stop at Portugal’s largest church, the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça (Alcobaça).  Taking seventy years to construct (1153 –1223), like all edifices of such antiquity, Alcobaça has been the subject of repairs/preservation work over the ensuing centuries.  

Bussaco Palace

Religious or not, it is the history and architecture that cannot fail to attract the attention of anyone interested in either of those subjects.  Commissioned by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, Alcobaça is inextricably linked to the history of Portugal, which first became a nation state in 1139 under Henriques.  Power, intrigue, and murder are all part of Alcobaça’s history.

Sitting in a forest of approximately 260 acres, the area (not the Palace Hotel) was originally a monastic retreat.  Here and there throughout the grounds are found waterfalls, fountains, ponds, channeled water courses, and secret grottoes constructed at various times across the centuries.  Even today, for non-monastics, Bussaco forest invites the peaceful contemplation of natures’ manifest attributes.  Bussaco  provided precisely the atmosphere and environment I invariably seek out – peaceful, surrounded by gardens, spacious, and not overrun by tourists.   The Palace Hotel and its manicured grounds are situated in the midst of the forest.

Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça (Alcobaça)

Part of the time that Bussaco forest was occupied by the religious order of Carmelites coincided with the Portuguese Age of Discovery, when Portuguese mariners were exploring the world.  These adventurers returned with trees from the regions they explored, and many exotic species were planted at Bussaco, including Himalayan pines, Mexican cedars, and oak varieties from around the world.  Over the ensuing centuries, first the Carmelites, and later the State, continued to add exotic trees and shrubs to the collection.  Today Bussaco Forest is home to many giant, centuries old specimen trees.  In an early act of environmentalism, the Pope at the time, in 1643 issued a decree threatening with excommunication any person harming the trees at Bussaco. The Bussaco Forest is today known to arborists worldwide.  

Continuing its unique history, in September of 1810, British Lord Wellington, allied with the Portuguese, defeated the French at the Battle of Bussaco.  Napoleon Bonaparte, who despite his wars of conquest and miscellaneous troublemaking remains today revered by the French, was at the time attempting to expand his empire into Portugal.  The English, French, and Spanish were almost continuously battling for supremacy, with alliances constantly shifting as self-interest dictated.  Nevertheless, the English-Portuguese alliance which originated in the early middle ages, endured over the centuries.  

Bussaco Palace and Gardens

English and Scottish businessmen, particularly Joseph James Forrester, played a major role in the development of the Portuguese Port industry (which we will delve into in the next installment from Porto), explaining why a surprising number of the major Port producing houses still have British names today (i.e., Graham’s, Sandeman, Taylor).

In the middle of the 19th Century, the Portuguese State took over Bussaco.  It was looked after by the Royal Forestry Commission, which continued to add to the botanical collection.  In this lengthy history of Bussaco, we come finally to the part where a Royal Palace is constructed.  Even that saga, however, is unique.  By the late 1800’s, the religious structures had fallen into disrepair, while the forest continued to thrive.  In the very last part of the Century, plans were commissioned by King Carlos to construct Neo-Manueline Bussaco Palace.  Discussing the Manueline architectural style is well beyond the scope of this author’s expertise.  It will suffice to say that while this style is characterized by flamboyant spires, arches and turrets, its highly decorative embellishments are distinctively different from similar period architecture anywhere else in Europe, with particular emphasis on seafaring motifs. 

Under construction for twenty years, the Palace was completed in 1907 only three years before the fall of the monarchy and the declaration of a Republic.  It was officially used only once, by Manuel II (son of Carlos), who used it for a romantic dalliance with French actress Gaby Deslys, before being exiled in 1910.  A better ending than his Russian counterpart had a few years later! The Palace later became the grand hotel it is today.  The Palace has a strikingly beautiful marble staircase to the second floor, with the walls of the staircase covered with huge cobalt blue Azulejo tile panels depicting scenes from Portuguese history.  The outside walls of the building are also covered with Azulejo panels depicting both historical and mythological themes.  They are indescribably beautiful (see photo below).

Neo-Manueline Bussaco Palace

Dining in historic hotels is virtually guaranteed to be a memorable experience, wherever one goes in Europe.  That proposition certainly held true in Portugal.  The Dining rooms of such hotels are inevitably atmospheric.  At Bussaco Palace the Dining room was filled with multiple curved archways supported by immense columns embellished with all manner of nautically themed ornamentation from the Portuguese Age of Discovery.  Anchors, cables, shells, pearls, and many other representations of middle age maritime objects adorned stone columns carved like twisted strands of rope.  Although the Dining area was actually one large room, the archways artfully divide the room into multiple dining venues and create the feeling privacy and intimacy.  In such places I always have the sense of being transported back several centuries in time, yet with modern amenities and service.  The old world architecture and antique furnishings coupled with modern convenience, combines for a magical marriage that cannot be matched in the U.S. 

On this evening, we strolled through a classically decorated anteroom with an immense fireplace, murals of medieval scenes, and cedar plank ceiling, into the Carlos Reis Bar for an aperitif.  The two rooms were separated by a beautifully carved archway.  The Bar is named for the Portuguese painter whose painting “Os Derrotados” (the Defeated), hangs there.

Following the aperitif (practically mandatory pre-meal tradition in Europe – but then they hardly need to twist my arm to get me to comply with that custom), we dined on a shared first course of “Dueto de Sardinhas”, and then separately Pork Loin and Tornedos ao Bussaco.  I splurged on this night for a 54€ bottle of Ramos Pinto in honor of the incredible surroundings.  Ramos Pinto is a Quinta (Wine Estate) located in the Duoro Valley, from whence emanates all of the Port Wine, but which also produces wines aside from Port. This bottle was called Duas Quintas, which is easily interpreted as being composed of grapes from two different vineyards.  Fruit forward, earthiness in the middle (it was difficult not to say “middle-earthiness” here), and a blackberry finish.  

I concluded the evening with a glass of 30 year old Niepoort Vintage Port – velvety and mellow.  Again, almost mandatory since I was on a wine/travel adventure.  Difficult work, but somebody has to do it!

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