Burgundy is Difficult to Learn

Why is Burgundy so difficult to get a grasp of?  For me, it’s a few things.  I do not speak French, which makes a lot of words difficult.  The pronunciation is really more like memorization than intuition since, again, I don’t know French.  Then there is Napoleon.   Yes, Napoleon.   I mean, I guess what he did was great for a while but now there are just too many descendants of his countrymen (and I will explain why that’s important later) which makes Burgundy a bit of a cluster-fuck.

The area of Burgundy has been making wine since the 6th century.

By the middle of the 1600’s, the wine was being exported. Very soon thereafter Burgundy began to be in high demand in different parts of the world and therefore was commanding a high price for these sought after wines.  Some things never change.  Then fast forward 100 plus years to the start of the French Revolution.  A time which always makes me think of that actor Gerard Depardieu in some movie that he did about the French Revolution.  Yes, even though I am a history major, he still is the first thing that comes to mind.  That aside, after the French Revolution, Napoleon made a namesake law, call the Napoleonic code.  The basic premise of this law states that a person’s inheritance be split equally among heirs.

Napoleon Portrait
Napoleon was actually 5’6” and average height.

At first glance, the law seems completely fair and just.

The only problem is when people have children for the next several hundred years, the available inheritance gets progressively smaller. One can imagine that the situation in Burgundy, given it still accepts the Napoleonic Code, has led to some very silly situations, such as some citizens owning half of a vine of grapes.  I mean, I really do believe that Napoleon meant well with this law…. but perhaps he just didn’t take fractions seriously in math class.

The solution to this problem is generally to have people called Négociants.

Négociants are around to make this jumbled mess a bit more unified, and to turn a profit.  Négociants will buy a bunch of grapes from the farmers or landowners and make wine in larger quantities than they could manage themselves, then sell it off under their label.  The Négociants were kicking some butt in the market and to a lesser extent are even doing so today.  However, Négociants been supplanted in the wine market by Domaines, or farmers and landowners who are doing their own bottling.  This cuts out the middleman, though it certainly does not cut the prices. The big difference is that Domaines are more consistent, but are also smaller operations that charge a lot more. Négociants, though less expensive can often be a gamble.  If you think about it, most people don’t do everything the same way.  For example, let’s say you have 14 people who all have 2 rows of grapes each and they are all purchased to make a wine, is it certain that all 14 growers are using the same methods and take the same care?  It is hard to get two people to do anything exactly the same, let alone fourteen.  Given that, there will be variation, on top of there being difference of terrior, or soil type.

Burgundy Domaine Château Pommard
Famous Burgundy Domaine Château Pommard

So with all that in mind, let’s move on to grapes and geography of Burgundy.

Burgundy Map of Wine Regions
Burgundy Map of Wine Regions

Côte d’Or

The Côte d’Or (aka the Golden Slope) is one of the most famous regions in the world for wine, and a super important one in Burgundy.  Most of the Grand Cru’s come from this region that is divided up into the Côte du Nuits and Côte du Beaune.  If you want a few mnemonic devices to remember these things: I remember it by using the N in Nuits to remember it is in the north and Côte du Beaune being in the south.  In addition to that, when I think Beaune, I think of bones.  Bones are white, and this region is more known for white wine, while Côte du Nuits is more known for red wine.  Also, as a whole (although there are exceptions to everything), if a wine is red it is typically Pinot Noir and if a wine is white it is typically Chardonnay.

If you go North, it’s the Yonne area which contains Chablis, Irancy, St-Bris and Auxerre.  South of the Côte d’Or is Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais.  Beaujolais is another region in Burgundy and its made of the Gamay grape.  Gamay is also used in the Mâconnais. Pinot Noir is and has been the most important grape of Burgundy until about 100 years ago when Chardonnay started playing a more active role and it now doing pretty well for itself.  So in other words, the main grapes are Pinot Noir for red in Burgundy and Chardonnay for white.  That being said, there is another white of some importance called Aligoté which is found in Bouzeron AOP in the Cote Chalonnaise region.

Burgundy Terraced Vineyard
Côte d`Or Terraced Vineyards


Obviously Chablis is an incredibly important region as well which is also part of Burgundy yet it so far north it is closer to Champagne!  This is a cooler climate that only produces white wine, the famous one and only Chardonnay.  There are some grand crus in the Chablis and make some of the best whites in the world.  Again, this is a whole other topic which I am not touching on here but I can’t leave out one of the most important white wine regions in the world.

Burgundy Domaine Francois Raveneau
Domaine Francois Raveneau


Another region of note is Beaujolais though closer to the Rhone region is still a part of Burgundy.  This is a warmer region than the rest of Burgundy and the grape for the area is Gamay. Technically this region can produce red, white and rosé even though I think mostly of the Gamay based easy drinking reds that come from this region.  Again, there are some great wines that come from here and you can get great value wines as well.

Beaujolais Vineyard
Beaujolais Vineyard

Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais

Lastly are the Côte Chalonnaise and then a bit more south is the Mâconnais regions within Burgundy.  Both regions can make red, white and rosé and also make some great wines with some really famous villages.

Côte Chalonnaise Vineyard
Côte Chalonnaise Vineyard

Burgundy Classification

Moving away from geography and going into the classification starting from entry level to highest level in regards to quality is: regional, village, premier crus and grand cru.

The basics in appellation start with the Bourgogne AOP region being the largest and intro level which can include red, white and rosé.  If it is sparkling it will be called Crémant de Bourgogne.  Simple enough, right?

Then there is village level which is labeled by commune and will not be as expensive or terrior specific as the next levels up but you can get some fantastic wines for a deal in this category.  Whether it is red or white will be decided by village and what is allowed. Marsannay does in fact allow red, white and rosé.  What makes this hard for me to understand now is these villages add the names of the famous wineries to themselves.

Next is the Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines which are some of the most expensive wines in the world.   The producers range in sizes from tiny to huge and everything in between.  One big difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy is who gets the status of grand cru and premier cru.  In Bordeaux it is the Chateau that owns the vineyards who has the statues and in Burgundy it is the vineyards with the status regardless of who owns it.

Burgundy Classification Chart
Burgundy Classification Chart

There still is a lot to learn about Burgundy.

There are whole books on Burgundy and this hardly scratched the surface of this interesting section of France.  I am just in the middle of studying this crazy amazing region and just wanted to point out why it is so difficult.  The natives of this region have had to come up with their own inventive solution to make the best of an old, antiquated law, and surprisingly succeeded!  For hundreds of years through today (and probably into the future), Burgundy is a complex region with incredibly expressive wines, which surprisingly utilize mainly just two iconic grapes.  Despite this, they are able to have established such a powerful identity for their region.  If you ever wonder what terrior means, Burgundy is the best example.

Burgundy Questions

Métayage – sharecropping

Fermage – leasing arrangements

Regions within the Yonne department – Chablis, Irancy, St-Bris, Auxerre

Where is Gamay allowed? – Mâconnais.  Beaujolais, Bourgogne Passetoutgrains and the Sparkling red Bourgogne Mosseux.

What is Pinot Gris known as in Burgundy? – Pinot Beurot and its permitted in many appellations but hardly used.

Where is Pinot Blanc most notable produced? – Nuits-St-George

Name the villages in the Yonne department that can add their name to a label? – Chitry, Vézelay and Épineuil

United Airlines Update

I’ve talked about my experiences on United Airlines before. Most notably what it is like to fly Business Class on United.  With Jeff Smisek finally out, I decided to write a United Airlines update. I must say the food on United has recently gotten better.  Usually Jeff Smisek CEO puts on some B.S. intro video on how United has really focused on bettering something and we are forced to watch some cheesy video about how United cares so damn much. In reality though they managed to spin some lame idea that obviously is lowering their expenses to make more money and have us suffer but it is all with Gershwin playing in the background so it’s ok!  While I write this, which started off to be a positive post, I realized there are a few things I have to rant about.

At SFO, an extremely busy hub and arguably one of the most expensive cities in the world, the airport had only recently been redone.  They added on some new gates that are a bit further away and this area rocks.  It has a bunch of great food, cool local shops, bars that I would genuinely want to drink at and purified water fountains where they encourage being green and recycling. All of these are obviously positive.  Unfortunately, other than the United terminal and the International terminal, I haven’t been to some of the other terminals in years.

A United Airlines Update “improvement”  was at the check in area at SFO.

It used to be self-explanatory.  You were lumped into your class, economy, premier, silver, gold, platinum, first business, global and each one consisted of waiting in a line to eventually see a United representative.  The United representative would then proceed to check-you-in after you printed your boarding pass. The United representative would tag your bag and then put it on the belt where it would be violently whisked away onto the plane where about 97% of the time we would reunite at our final destination.  Recently, at least for several months now, they changed that “system” at SFO.  Now, they made it seem like everything is “high tech” by creating a series of computers that block you before you get to see the United poser.  Yes, they switched them up and now they are dressed like United representatives but they don’t actually help you nor do they want too.  Before you reach the United Poser you get to access these white computers that are not macs, but made to look like a mac since we all know macs rock and they are the cutest computers out there hands down.  Now instead of a United person printing that long baggage tag that they put on our bags for us before they sail off on their abusive journey, we now get to do that ourselves.  We have all seen this done plenty of times but it takes a few tries to get it perfect.  So at SFO, we are now graced with getting to learn how to tag our own bags after printing our boarding pass.

So you walk in, some United person yells at you to go to the screen first to do everything yourself.

Everything that comes out of their mouth is just delegating their previous jobs to us now and they boss us around instead in a condescending and unfriendly tone.  Following the rudeness, everyone around walks in a confused manner over to these screens where no one helps and we take care of our baggage.  Then with everything in tote, we get to wait in line to see a United poser (dressed in United attire) but alas, they can only take your bag from you after you have properly labeled it and put the sticker on correctly.  If everything is smooth then you are done here.  However, if you have one question to ask regarding flying United, your reservation, upgrades, etc you get to walk over to the right where there are the real United representatives alone with no one around.  So here is another line and everyone is busy not helping customers so you have to get one of their attention to see if they can “help” you.  I happened to get to the airport early since I am anal about being on time so I wanted to see if I could jump on an earlier flight.  After asking this question, she said “Well, did you try it on the computer”?  Um, no, I didn’t, can you check? She doesn’t really respond, just takes my ticket without saying anything to me but filled with a bunch of attitude since I disrupted her and then says, “You ARE on the next flight”.  I said ok, thanks for checking…. Again…. Crickets.  She did take my luggage tag and check my bag for me.

So yeah, that’s cool.  Now instead of having reps assist, we have a do it yourself check in area.

That is probably my second  biggest beef with them at the moment.  I did find the last video with Jeff (I am on a first name basis with him now since I have probably spent at least 100 hours hearing his voice, looking at his pictures and thinking about his visions to make United better but alas he stepped down!  Good news!   We shall see about the next guy, Oscar Munoz.

In the last few years, literally EVERYTHING on United has gotten worse.

I don’t really know Oscar yet but I hope he can do a better job.    If you are a sucker to stick with one of the worst rated airlines ever and finally make some status, they actually took most of the perks away.  Oscar, can you bring it back?

Instead of making our hard earned miles worthless, can you make them worth something? 

Can you make it beneficial to stick to United? 

Can you take away the exorbitant PQD Premeir Qualifying Dollars? 

I mean give us a break, if we manage to fly 100,000 miles with you, can you just please give us the status?  Really?  What do you lose, other than customers and loyal rewards members.  Start it this year, I promise you, none of us would mind.  We might actually stay and fly more with you if you do it this year.

Adopt the snickers slogan, Hungry – why wait?  Like why wait to start a new program to get customers all over again when you can start with keeping the ones you have?

Also, let us extend our status when flying maybe just one person on our miles.

That was taken away.  I actually only use my miles to fly my boyfriend so I can spend enough and fly enough to keep my status, but let me extend it to him.  I understand not being able to do this with anyone, but perhaps we can pick one “fly buddy” that can use our miles as us.

I know you guys are working on the food, thank you for that.

I really notice a difference and greatly appreciate it!  The food tastes a lot better and there are more options for people, so please keep it up.

United Business Class Shrimp
United Business Class Shrimp
United Airlines Update Business Class Breakfast
United Airlines Update Business Class Breakfast

The seats are newer but we have less room now and they are less comfortable. 

Also if you are going to take away the screens everywhere, please give us power to charge our devices.

Otherwise it seems like we are moving back in time, not forwards.

Oscar, from a loyal 1k member, please take my opinion into consideration.  I promise a lot of people stand with me.

A Lovely Trip to Vietnam

Our trip to Vietnam had to be one of the best vacations I have taken.  I loved the people, the food, and the nature.  We spent about a week vacationing in Hoi An after an intense work trip in Hong Kong. Traveling around Vietnam was easy. We flew into Saigon and played tourist for about 2 days.  We then took Vietjet which was such a great little airline over to Da Nang and then a cab to Hoi An.


Saigon is where most travelers start their journey in Vietnam. It is a hustling and bustling South East Asian City filled with motorbikes, temples, great food, fun night life, and lots of other travelers. We spent a few days here visiting temples, getting massages, drinking, and exploring the city.

Vietnam Temple Gate
At a Vietnamese Temple in Saigon
Fresh Coconut Water in Vietnam
Drinking Fresh Coconut Water in Hoi An

The Lunch Lady of Saigon

We read about a lady in Saigon over at Gastronomy Blog that makes a different soup everyday that people rave about.  Anthony Bourdain had visited her before and supposedly returns back every time he is in Vietnam. You find this small outdoor restaurant near a street corner, sit on child like plastic chairs, and eat some of the most flavorful soup you’ll ever have. The soup cost only $2.50 and it rocked my world.  I still think about it. I will make a pilgrimage here on every trip I take to Vietnam.


Lunch Lady Vietnam Soup
Incredible Lunch Lady Vietnam Soup
Lunch Lady Vietnam Spring Rolls
Lunch Lady Vietnam Spring Rolls
Lunch Lady Vietnam Shop
Lunch Lady Vietnam Shop
Lunch Lady Vietnam with Us
Lunch Lady Vietnam Took a Picture with Us

Hoi An

When we arrived at Hoi An we stayed at Hoi An Trails Resort & Spa. They had a lovely breakfast buffet every morning, a pool, spa stuff and it was easy to find random strangers and hop on the back of their mopeds to get around.  It was reasonable and really quite nice.  The staff was very helpful, the beds were comfortable, they had nice showers and it felt like a vacation.

Hoi An Trails Breakfast Buffet
Hoi An Trails Breakfast Buffet

Lantern Town Restaurant in Hoi An

Lantern Town Restaurant in the center of Hoi An was great.  We just laid there and ate and drank for hours.  We got 2 bottles of Chilean wine and a ton of food and the total came to about $45.  There is a lot of food that is really cheap but this was really nice splurge in Hoi An.

Lantern Town Restaurant Cocktail Menu
Lantern Town Restaurant Cocktail Menu
Lantern Town Restaurant Appetizers
Lantern Town Restaurant Appetizers
Lantern Town Restaurant Beef Dish
Lantern Town Restaurant Beef Dish
Lantern Town Restaurant Relaxing
Lantern Town Restaurant Relaxing

Custom Clothes in Hoi An

Having clothes custom made for you is the big industry in Hoi An. We visited several different shops but ultimately decided on Yaly Couture.  Everything will be about $50 – $100 for girls stuff and they can do anything.  I would go on a designer website and pick out any outfit that I wanted  and have them make it for me. They are super friendly and everyone should have this fantastic experience. We would go to Yaly’s in the morning for a fitting and to pick out different garments and fabrics.   After that we would head to the beach, swim, tan, eat and drink until about 4pm or so. We then went back to Yaly’s for our next fitting nice and buzzed.  They would have water ready for us and we got to try on a bunch of clothes buzzed. This was heaven! After our second fitting of the day we would go eat somewhere amazing and probably also tie in a spa treatment of some kind.

I would go back in a heartbeat – loved it all!

Enjoying a Cocktail at the Beach in Hoi An
Enjoying a Cocktail at the Beach in Hoi An

Ontañón Spanish Wine Tasting

I had the privilege of tasting the Ontañón line up of Spanish wines at the lovely Jaleo restaurant.

It was a small group of people that were passionate about the pairing of food and wine along with the ambiance that was absolutely perfect. I had heard great things about Ontañón wines before so I was eager to try them. These Spanish wines did not disappoint, but what makes these wines so special?

Ontañón Table

Ontañón is the mountain valley that the Perez-Cuevas family has owned for generations in the Rioja Baja region of Spain.

The vineyards are located  about 762 meters (2500 feet) above sea level. The higher altitude exposes the grapes to lower temperatures and more solar radiation which in turn causes the grape skins to grow thicker and allows a richer extraction during skin soaking.  The mountain valley is also coated in iron rich clay soils and some calcareous deposits which gives the wine a rustic minerality.  Ontañón’s elevation, soil, Mediterranean climate with large temperature shifts from day to night, and the winemaking skills of Ruben Perez-Cuevas produce wines that exhibit bright acidity, rustic complexity, great balance, and amazing consistency.

We started our Spanish wine tasting with the Vetiver Blanco a wine made from Viura grapes.

Viura is a grape indigenous to Rioja and  has over 25 different names but is best known as Maccabeo to the rest of the world. Viura is usually the main grape of white Rioja and is often blended to make Cava. Ontañón’s Vetiver Blanco does not need any blending though and this one hundred percent Viura wine lets all of the varietal’s traits shine. This white wine is vibrant and lively. It has some white floral notes, good minerality, and a rich mouthfeel. This wine spent five months in oak barrels which gives it the rich mouthfeel and a beautiful golden color.

Ontañón Vetiver Blanco
Ontañón Vetiver Blanco
Vetiver Blanco
The Vetiver Blanco is so golden

Ontañón Vetiver Blanco was paired with a cheese, raw sheep’s milk manchego, Jamon, free range, acorn fed, black footed pig, and Pulpo ala Gallega, boiled octopus with potatoes, pementón and olive oil.

Raw Sheep Milk Manchego
Raw Sheep Milk Manchego
Pulpo a la Gallega
Pulpo a la Gallega

The next Spanish wine we tasted was Ontañón Crianza.

This wine is from forty year old vines on the slopes of the Sierra Yergas just south of the Ebro river in Rioja Baja. The warm sunny days here allow the grapes to ripen to full maturity and the cold nights help to increase the acidity levels. This wine is made from ninety percent Tempranillo and ten percent Garnacha. The Crianza is earthy has overtones of spice, dark fruit, black cherries, and a lovely rustic feel coupled with bright acidity. This wine was paired with shrimp, roasted sweet red peppers, and house made chorizo.

Ontañón Crianza
Ontañón Crianza
Jaleo's Home Made Chorizo
Jaleo’s Home Made Chorizo

Finally, we had the privilege of tasting the 2001 Ontañón Riserva.

This wine is only made during exceptional years from select vineyards on the slopes of the Sierra Yerga Mountains above Quel in Rioja Baja. The vines chosen are very old and impart deep full flavors. The Riserva is made from ninety five percent Tempranillo and five percent Graciano. It spends twenty four months in American and French oak barrels before spending another twelve months in the bottle.  All of this care leads to a wine that has layers of dark fruit with notes of chocolate and mocha. These flavors are then wrapped in a delicate yet acidic and earthy wine with luscious mouth feel.  This was paired with a delicious hanger steak. This is a wine I could drink every day.

Ontañón Riserva
Ontañón Riserva
Ontañón Riserva in Glass
Ontañón Riserva is so dark with a clear rim.

Overal, this was an excellent Spanish wine tasting.

The Ontañón wines I tasted exceeded their reputation and paired well with the food at Jaleo. I highly recommend trying these wines. The wines are distributed in 22 states, please contact your local retailer or visit Ontañón if you would like to purchase.

Spanish Wine Tasting
Everyone Loved the Tasting


Flying Business Class on United

Flying business class on United Airlines is something I look forward to.

I hope my worst decision today was not eating breakfast before flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong via Narita.  I woke up at 6:30am in San Francisco and did not have time to eat.   I had errands to run and since I am anal about getting to the airport early, I was stressed that I was not leaving much room for error since I had an 11am flight.  For some reason, even with my global entry and flying business class on United, I still feel the need to get to the airport at least 2 hours early.

Flying around the world makes for a long day without the perfect concoction of sleeping aids and alcohol.

I have decided after doing this many times;however, that the best bet is sleeping well the night before, not drinking much several days beforehand, and then just enjoy the flight.  By enjoy the flight I mean drink and watch movies while contemplating life.  I am on the flight to Narita, Japan in business class at the moment and loving it. It is a very liberating feeling, just being so alone yet surrounded by people who know nothing about each other in such close quarters.

Everyone is quiet, the flight attendants are attentive until the lights go out and then everyone sleeps.  I am obviously not sleeping because I truly love this time.  I am buzzed, decently fed, with an open bar,  sleeping pills if necessary, my lap top and endless movies.  Even though I am flying business I still do not feel like spending the $12 or $17 for wifi that is mediocre and intermittent in order to keep me tethered to the world.  I like taking this time to connect with myself.

A flight attendant once told me that it was worth paying the difference of economy to business class but not business to first class.

Honestly, flying to Hong Kong from SFO in coach is about $1100-1500 on United in Economy or $8000-10,000 in business.  In what world is that a negligible difference?  If someone said, you could spend $110 on a lovely dinner or drop $800 but the $800 dinner is better would you just say ok?  It is such a huge difference, I don’t even understand it.  I always wonder who in business class paid for it and who uses upgrades?  I have been a loyal United customer for years now and pay more, fly inconvenient routes, fly stupid times (sometimes),  and do whatever it takes to remain a 1K customer.  I have my own company so everything is 100% out of pocket but I make it work for these moments, and the moments where you can call your own line and get an American person who wants to help you with travel – these things make it all worthwhile.
For those of you, like myself, who would probably not pay full fare for a business class ticket, I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate my time up here.  The differences are great but are they worth the price of a vacation? A new wardrobe?  Paying off your credit card?  Saving a family in Ethiopia or some other developing nation?  Getting Sarah McLaughlin to not sing that sad animal song and saving like 100 puppies or kittens?  No way….  I would so rather get letters from a family I donated money too, or seeing 100 videos or pictures of happy animals I saved, or flying myself to DaNang Vietnam and making myself a custom made wardrobe or pretty much whatever for $7-$9000.

That all being said, if you feel like sticking with an airline, really getting in bed with them, letting them take advantage of you sometimes and getting perks in return, this is the fun part and I have earned it.

I normally try to fly business class on United airlines direct to Hong Kong but this trip, like last, was full so I am flying with a stopover in Tokyo, Japan.  Last time to get an upgrade to business class I flew through Beijing which may be my least favorite airport in the world at this point. I have visited 26 countries, 34 states and about 200 airports so I feel like that is saying a lot.  I would rather fly coach direct to Hong Kong than fly business if I have to go through Beijing. Going through customs just to get to your next flight was a nightmare!  No one would help me, there were no signs, and I think they were too cheap to turn on the heat and it was 30 degree Fahrenheit so I was freezing!  I thought I did not have time to hit the lounge because of the lines and how big the airport was, but what Air China didn’t tell me ever, not once, was my flight was 30 minutes delayed.  There was no communication whatsoever, everyone was rude, and this was after flying around the world.  But alas, what I do for an upgrade! Anyway, this time for an upgrade I am flying through Japan which is actually nice.  The food is better on this flight than when flying to Hong Kong or Beijing.  I love the wine selection, sake selection, and even the menu is pretty great.
When I first sit down on the plane, I get a beverage. I love that because I am always drinking.  I don’t mean alcohol, mostly water, but I love tea, sparkling water, coffee, wine, sake – pretty much anything I can consume.  I like not having to wait to quench my thirst.  Also, once you are at that 10,000 feet mark, the three beeps that let you know we are finally ready to turn those electronics back on and the lovely flight attendants can come back with more drinks, that sound makes me very happy.  We now get to switch to glass and for some reason, this makes me feel awesome… I don’t know why but having glass instead of plastic is just nice.  Last night I went on a walk with my mom to take the dogs out and after a somewhat stupid day, I wanted a drink.  Instead of taking my Sangiovese in a coffee cup, I decided to take it in a wine glass and it felt great!  Why?  I guess because normally that is not what we do.  I think its the same with flights.

After the 3 dings, we get hot towels shortly followed by warmed nuts.

Business Class on United Sake and Warm Nuts
Warm Nuts and Sake
My question is why aren’t all nuts warmed?  I mean it’s not that hard, but warmed nuts are so much better than cold ones.  And thanks to all those peanut allergies out there, its only cashews and almonds which are the tasty nuts.  I am going to Hong Kong to work pretty much straight for 6 weeks so I am enjoying my vacation while it lasts, away from earth so it seems, with my open bar, personal server and my interesting meal and snacks to come.  Normally, for some reason, I usually make friends on the plane.  I think I have about 10 Facebook friends now that I met on planes, a few customers and stack of business cards.  This time my partner or plane buddy is very quiet.  He is very polite, very sober and very asleep.  I on the other hand am awake and chilling.

I always cry more in planes.

I just watched “This is Where I Leave You” and “The Good Lie” and both were pretty awesome. I always cry more in planes during movies than normal and I am not sure why. Maybe I pick sadder movies, or maybe its the elevation, alcohol and contemplating the meaning of life while I fly. Two weeks ago on my way back from Hong Kong to San Francisco I watched “The Fault in our Stars.”  Oh my god, I cried so hard i choked.  Fortunately, the guy next to me was also watching it and we just looked at each other with an unspoken understanding of what was going on and there was no explanation needed.  He and I sat together, drinking for almost 15 hours together, shared 3 meals, some snacks, tears, a nap and never said anything to each other.  I love this weird relationship I can have with people yet never talk or know their name.  “The Fault in our Stars” was such a sad movie, even the guys in Honest Trailer cried in it – by the way, I love these guys.  Seriously, if you need a laugh, go to their site and watch 20 of them back to back, it will make your night. You’re welcome.

Whenever someone asks me what a good book is, I don’t have to think.

It is “This is Where I leave you”.  The book was awesome and the movie was pretty damn good as well.  The book was funnier and less sad than the movie. I recommend both though.  “The Good Lie” now that is a tearjerker but it makes me appreciate life.   I really don’t know what to watch next after those two. I mean what compares?  I would totally watch “The Guardians of the Galaxy” again if I hadn’t already watched it twice… I love that movie.  The night/ day is young, I could watch it again?

I am drinking a wine from the Medoc right now.

I finished my sake bottle earlier but I could have another.  The wine and sake is picked out by some amazing Sommelier who writes the list for United. After the warm nuts, I got a pretty decent salad with cheese and both dried and fresh tomatoes.  There was also another appetizer served with a California roll, prosciutto and cantaloupe with some olives. We also had for our main course, a bunch of choices and I opted for the Pork chop with broccolini, white asparagus and some bread thing I didn’t eat.  The Pork chop was actually good, a little dry but pretty decent.  My only problem with it was eating it with a butter knife; I really had to saw at it for a while, but I had nothing but time so no big deal.  Either way, I was happy with my red wine from the Medoc and my little personal sake bottles.
Business Class on United Salad and California Roll
Salad, California Roll, and Prosciutto
Business Class on United Pork Chop with Broccolini
Pork Chop with Broccolini

After dinner we get a cheese course, a few grapes and some crackers with port which I always enjoy.

I like to sit and snack on these cheeses during my movie.  I opted not to have the port this time, but did go for Grand Marnier mainly because of how cute the bottles are.  After about 15 minutes with the cheese, they come around with an ice-cream sunday cart which I think is always fun and good idea.  You can choose from other dessert drinks like port, Grand Marnier or any other spirit but I figured I had my fill now.

This is a Long Flight

This  flight is about 11 hours and 45 minutes but they fed us a few times so i didn’t need to eat everything.  There were some sandwiches I skipped, I did take a few of the Toblerone chocolates and the potato chips, I always enjoy these fattening items.  For some reason by the time breakfast comes I am so over the flight and breakfast never tastes good on the plane.  I had not slept so I didn’t want coffee, especially since I had a 5 hour layover in Japan and then another 5 hour flight, but I also didn’t want alcohol.  What a predicament, so I chose water and tea.  They gave us another warm towel to rinse our hands and then we chose 1 of 3 breakfast options.  I always chose the eggs because I usually don’t want some interesting eastern breakfast nor do I want cereal and milk.  I had my over salted eggs and the flight was over.
And that was my flight!  I am a 1k member on United so I have lounge access when I fly internationally which does make a huge difference.  I immediately went into the United lounge and took a shower.  Seriously, a shower goes a long way between layovers and long flights.  The showers in the lounges are pretty decent and they give you all the toiletries you need.  This lounge has like 10 or 12 showers and a full staff constantly cleaning so I feel pretty good about this one.  There is a seriously full open bar at this lounge but the food choices are pretty weak!  I am not really hungry but still feel like eating; it just seems like the right thing to do and I am tired and kind of starting my hangover.  I had some sushi and edamame. But after about an hour and half I got bored and this lounge is super crowded so I figured I would try the other lounge.  This only worked because my next leg was actually on ANA airlines and I had never been in their lounge.

Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge Shower

Showers at Tokyo United Lounge

Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge Toiletries
United Lounge Tokyo Toiletries
Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge
United Tokyo Lounge Food Setup
Business Class on United Tokyo Lounge
United Tokyo Lounge
It was far away from where I was but really close to my gate so it worked out well.  I took a bunch of pictures of this lounge because its so awesome!  It was pretty much empty, huge and so clean!  I had more sushi choices, fresh salad, tons of Sake’s, weird looking potato and pasta salads that I avoided, sushi triangles with mystery surprises inside and some chocolates 🙂  They also had a few kinds of soup so i went for some miso soup which was pretty decent.
I did not get upgraded on my next flight which is a bummer since I am star alliance gold on this airline but that does’t do much for you.  I asked if I could get an upgrade and the really nice ANA representative told me I could for “many many money” so I decided that did not sound like a good idea.  This next flight was crowded, but it was 5 hours and they still fed us twice!  Neither meal was worth mentioning but it is nice we still got meals.  Overall, I like ANA airlines and would love to try business class with them.  Unfortunately due to my exclusive relationship with United, I probably won’t get this chance.
Was this leg worth about $4k?  I am pretty sure it was not but I always enjoy the experience and I am thankful for the benefits of United 1K membership.

Washington Wines – An Overview and Selection

Washington wines are now a must try.

Yes, it is a newer wine region in comparison to many other wine regions throughout the US, but in just a short time, Washington is really producing some fantastic wines.

Washington’s climate is perfect for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

I’m talking of course about Washington State wines which has nothing to do with the nations capital, Washington D.C. on the East Coast.  This West Coast state, located right above Oregon actually shares an AVA with Oregon.  When we think Oregon wines, Pinot Noir comes to mind first and foremost as Oregon is really making some killer Pinot Noir. Washington makes a bunch of great wines with a wide range of varietals but they are most known for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up about 55% of their overall production. Washington is much more Northern than California so the characteristics of the wine are also very different. For those who are completely unfamiliar with Washington wines, they have identical latitude as the famous regions Bordeaux & Burgundy. Most of the vineyards are to the east of the Cascade Mountains other than the Puget Sound AVA.  The Cascade Mountains divide Eastern and Western Washington, with Canada to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon to the south and Idaho to the East.

Washington State has so much natural beauty; it is simply stunning.

Seattle does have the reputation of being incredibly rainy but the eastern part of Washington is quite dry and some regions get less than 10 inches of rainfall a year!  Eastern Washington is continental with hot summers and cold winters with a lot of sunshine, which is great for vineyards. There are over 800 wineries in Washington; however, vineyards still only make up about 2% of their agriculture.  The Olympic and Cascade mountains block the rain creating a very different climate between Western Washington (think rainy Seattle) to Eastern Washington which is a dry, perfect grape growing territory where most of the wines in Washington are from.

Washington State wines are more red dominated but they are making some kick ass whites.

Riesling is the most grown white Washington wine but they are also producing late harvest Riesling and even ice wines some years.  The Rieslings from the region are typically light and dry so it makes for a great easy drinking wine.  In recent vintages, 2006, 2010, and 2011 were the cooler vintages in Washington so they made Ice Wine.  Moscato is also doing really well here.  Thinking about the region geographically, Okanagan Valley wines in Canada are only about 4 hours away.

Also, 95% of Washington wines are sold out every year, so these wines are in high demand.

As for some of the regions within Washington, Columbia Valley is the largest AVA.  Quilceda Creek from Columbia Valley has gotten 100 points by Robert Parker 3 different years and is very highly rated in tons of different publications which should give everyone an idea of the wine quality this region is able to produce.  This region is shaped largely by the Columbia River and many of the AVA’s are within Columbia Valley.  Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and Walla Walla are among the most important regions.

Red Mountain is red wine country.

Red Mountain, the smallest AVA in Washington is red wine country making mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and this region has the most prestigious wines.  Two of the most famous vineyards Kiona, Ciel du Cheval are both located within Red Mountain.  This region has smaller grapes so you get a higher skin to juice wine.  This results in some really tannic Cabernet Sauvignons and surprisingly tannic Merlots.

Another useful bit of info is back in the last ice age, there was something called the Missoula floods (13-15,000 years ago) which pumped a ton of water through Washington and down into the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  You can see areas that show how the alluvial soil and basalt bedrocks were deposited throughout the valley.  The soil types here are part of what enables Washington wines to be so complex.  The gorge is the part of the Cascade Range that is open.  With constant fierce wind, the skin of the grapes has to be thick and the grapes are small as a self-defense.  Ripening is more of a challenge in the gorge more than anywhere else.

Walla Walla has a more continental climate.

Another important region is Walla Walla, which isn’t a big wine region either and has about as many vines planted as Red Mountain.  Christophe Baron, Garry Figgins, Leonetti are some of the pioneers that put Walla Walla on the map.   Walla Walla is warmer than Yakima and a bit more continental and they have more frost, which can lead to more vintage variation.  The Eastern boarder for the AVA is the Blue Mountains.

Overall, Washington has the ability to produce some amazing wines because of the great climate, low rainfall and great soils.  It is a newer wine region and they are using modern wine making techniques.

Here are some of the wines I love and are must try from Washington along with a few tasting notes:


Poet's Leap Riesling Columbia Valley 2013

Long Shadows “Poet’s Leap” Riesling, Columbia Valley 2013

A bright wine with some petrol, floral notes, stone fruit, exotic fruits and guava. There is a high acidity to this wine which makes it very food friendly.

Washington Wine Amavi Cellars Semillon 2012

Amavi Cellars Semillon, Walla Walla Valley 2012

There is a creaminess to the wine which I like; it is nutty, aromatic, and yummy.  It’s a dry wine but waxy, undercurrent of acid.  I get lemon curd and fig.

Washington Wines Efeste Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes 2012

Efeste “Feral” Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes 2012

There is some oxidation and a little neutral oak.  Grassy, hay, lime, high acid, green notes, pepper, scallions, citrus, lemon, orange, herbs Pair this with light salads, crudité.

Washington Wines Maurice Sparrow Estate Viognier Walla Walla Valley 2012

AMaurice “Sparrow Estate” Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, 2012.

This wine is floral, peachy, stone fruit, and vanilla, pretty delicious.  Long finish.

Washington Wines Milbrandt Pinot Gris 2013

Milbrandt Pinot Gris 2013

Crisp, bright, lemon, lime, stone fruits, melon.  Overall refreshing and food friendly.

Washington Wines Analemma Wines Oak Ridge Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge 2011

Analemma Wines “Oak Ridge: Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge 2011

Fruit forward, berries, rose, floral, tannins are grippy.


Washington Wines Va Piano les Collines Black Label Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2012

Va Piano “les Collines Black Label” Syrah, Walla Walla Valley 2012

Green pepper, black fruit, very purple in color.

Washington Wines Rotie Cellars Southern Red Washington 2011

Rotie Cellars “Southern Red,” Washington 2011

High acid, black berries, plum, raspberry, earthy.

Washington Wines Idilico Monastrell Snipes Mountain 2011

Idilico Monastrell, Snipes Mountain, 2011

Blue fruit, tart, grippy, tannic, floral, pepper. Really pretty.

Cor Cellars Cab Franc, Horse Heaven Hills 2010

Cor Cellars Cab Franc, Horse Heaven Hills 2010

Red, blue fruit, purple flowers, pepper.  Interesting, spicy, kind of nice.

Washington Wines Fall Line Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010

Fall Line “Red Willow Vineyard” Yakima Valley 2010

Blue fruit, spicy, flowers, this is a bigger wine.  Long finish and balanced.

Washington Wines Leonetti Cellar Merlot Walla Walla 2012

Leonetti Cellar Merlot, Walla Walla 2012

I get meat on this wine.  Bacon as well.  Dessert, caramel, sweet tobacco, beautiful, juicy, wonderful.  Tannic, long finish.  Beautiful fruit and lots of tannins.  Most polished perfect versions of Merlot.  I love this wine.

Washington Wines Andrew Will Champoux Horse Heaven Hills 2010

Andrew Will “Champoux,” Horse Heaven Hills 2010

Smokey, raisin, ripeness of fruit, nice acid, balanced, sweet fruit, less new oak, very tannic.

Washington Wines Cadence Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2010

Cadence “Ciel du Cheval,” Red Mountain, 2010

This is ripping high tanning.  Cranberries, raspberry, red plum, violets. Wow, kind of an awesome wine but it needs food.

Washington Wines Col Solare Red Wine Columbia Valley 2001

Col Solare Red Wine, Columbia Valley 2001

Wow, developing, really well integrated.  Stewed red fruits.  Earthy, rose petals, tobacco, and black raspberry.  Still has a lot of tannin, yum.


Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Guide

Every year before Thanksgiving I start receiving phone calls and emails all asking the same thing, “What wine should I buy for Thanksgiving dinner?”

Thanksgiving dinner may appear daunting at first to pair wine with. It includes a meat people don’t usually eat for dinner (a whole roast turkey) and combines it with numerous different side dishes that can be sweet (cranberry sauce) and savory (gravy). All of these potential perceived difficulties actually make it a very versatile wine pairing holiday and by following the principles below you and your guests will be still be talking about the dinner next year.

Pre-Dinner Drink

Your family and guests should not have an empty glass before the start of the meal. Thanksgiving is a celebration and what better way to start a celebration than with sparkling wine or as I call them bubbles. Sparkling wine will not only set the tone for the evening but it will also get everyone’s palates stimulated. Bubbles does not mean only Champagne. We can start off with sparkling wine from anywhere. A sparkling rosé would be a great way to start since it’s pretty and will match the fall colors. I would choose a dry sparkling wine since you will have a lot more sugar as your meal progresses. Everyone should have a glass or two to put them in the party mood before moving on to the main courses.

Sparkling wine makes it a celebration
Sparkling wine makes it a celebration

The Main Event

The main event is where you will showcase your cooking and wine knowledge. I’ve divided this section into two parts. The first is for entry level wine drinkers and the second is for more experienced oenophiles (wine connoisseurs). Either way, I recommend having two wines on the table. People usually only have one glass on the table with dinner but I recommend two. It allows you the opportunity to try different pairings at once and to juxtapose the flavors with each other. Try it at Thanksgiving, I promise your guest will remember it. You might even start having multiple glasses on more occasions.

Entry Level Wine Drinkers

For entry level wine drinkers I recommend approachable wines that can stand up to the bold flavors on the plate. I recommend an off dry Riesling. Rieslings are often thought of as very sweet but they actually come in all levels of sweetness. An off dry Riesling  has a slight sweetness and a great acidity. The acidity is often what makes a good food wine by refreshing the palate. An off dry Riesling will have a lovely floral note, delicate sweetness, mild citrus fruit flavors, and will be palate cleansing. An off dry Riesling will have enough sweetness to compliment the cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie, and the stuffing but it will also have enough acidity to be refreshing after a bite of turkey with gravy.

The second wine I recommend having on the table is a Zinfandel. This red varietal has flavors of baking spices,  dark berry jam, and an underlying pepper spice. The tannins, although very subtle, are still there and will elevate the turkey flavor without drowning it out. Your guest will really enjoy going back and forth between a mildly sweet and acidic riesling and a bold jammy Zinfandel. Nearly any California Zinfandel will be good but I think the bolder Zinfandels will keep your guests anticipating next year’s Thanksgiving.

Experienced Wine Drinkers

More experienced wine drinkers will appreciate aromatic whites that compliment the meal and have their own complexity. I recommend trying a Gewürztraminer with dinner. Gewürztraminer has great floral notes and a delicate sweetness similar to an off dry Riesling but it has an added complexity to it. When compared to Riesling, Gewürztraminer has more spice flavors, tropical instead of citrus fruit, and less acidity. The inherent spiciness, acidity, and tropical notes of Gewürztraminer will highlight all the subtleties of the food prepared.

In addition to a Gewürztraminer, a Pinot Noir with dinner will really make it a memorable evening. Pinot Noir is one of the lightest red wines available. Pinot Noir is a softer red with light tannins. Pinot Noir is elegant, delicate, and well rounded. It will complement everything you have on the table. You can choose either and old world or a new world Pinot Noir (What is Old World and New World?). A new world Pinot Noir will have more fruit flavors with strawberry, cherry, and raspberry flavors. An old world Pinot Noir (plus Willamette Valley, Oregon Pinot Noir), will have more earthy flavors. Some people describe the flavor as “barnyard”.  Keep in mind when choosing a Pinot Noir for dinner that Pinot Noir is one of the most expensive wines to make so it is very difficult to find one for less than $20 per bottle. For my Thanksgiving dinner I chose a Pinot Noir from Mendelson Vineyards in California. It is old world style and the earthiness of the wine will highlight the earthiness of the roasted fall vegetables that I love. Remember, as long as there is red and white on the table it is all gravy. Pun intended 🙂

Turkey and Pinot Noir - A Great Pairing
Turkey and Pinot Noir – A Great Pairing

What About Ham?

Some people have ham with Thanksgiving dinner either instead of or along with the turkey. Since ham can be either sweet or savory it will change what we decide to pair with it. If it is a sweet ham, such as a honey baked ham, then the off-dry Riesling or the Gewürztraminer will pair well. If it is a savory ham then an old world Pinot Noir will probably be best. An old world Pinot Noir will highlight the savoriness of the ham, add some earthiness, and have enough acidity to be refreshing.

Maple Baked Ham and Riesling
Maple Baked Ham and Riesling


Since you are going to be stuffed and hungover the next day anyways, you should have a dessert wine. When most people think about dessert wine, they think of Port. We are going to do something different. Thanksgiving dessert involves pumpkin pies, pecan pies, and fruity desserts. I recommend a Madeira or Sherry for thanksgiving dinner. Both of these fortified wines have baking spices, high alcohol, and a richness that will end the meal on a high note.

Madeira and Pie
Madeira and Pie Is Hard to Beat

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I have used the suggestions outlined above to craft food and wine pairings that my guests talk about years later. I hope your Thanksgiving goes as well as mine. Please let me know if the comments below how the wine pairings work out with your dinner.

Pouring at Wine Riot DC 2013

I spent this past weekend pouring wines at Wine Riot DC. My friend Morgan First, founder of Wine Riot, asked if I could help out. I’ve heard a lot about Wine Riot before so I was eager to get a chance to attend my first one. It was even better to see the action from behind the scenes. If you haven’t heard of Wine Riot, it is a traveling wine tasting party. This is a wine tasting that focuses on fun first. There is great music, over 250 wines to try, costumes, temporary tattoos, and a fun photo booth. This is the only wine tasting I’ve been to where many of the people are dancing in the isles. It was a lot of fun. They had a booth devoted to learning more about your own wine preferences. Partiers could taste and decide if they liked Oaked vs UnOaked, Young vs Old, Sweet vs Dry, and Old World vs New World. I worked Old World vs New World Saturday night because that is one of my favorite topics. After people marked down their cards with their preferences, people then went to each booth to sample hundreds of wines in total. No one was going to leave sober.

I'm explaining what Cava is.
I’m explaining what Cava is to a few lovely girls. They were eager to learn about non Champagne bubbles.

Another highlight of the event was the Bubbly Bar.I worked the Bubbly Bar Friday night. It was a bar set up with eight different kinds of sparkling wines from all of the world. People got to try Cava, Prosecco, Cremant, Brachetto, and of course Champagne. This was a great introduction to people that great sparkling wines come from all over the world and are not only Champagne. One wine I would have liked to see there would have been a Lambrusco, since many people have never seen a sparkling red wine. Perhaps next year, I’ll bring one.

Bubbly Bar Setup
The Bubbly Bar Before The Crowds Arrive

There are also numerous classes being given on wine from around the world. They teach classes on everything from the great regions of California to special highlights from South America. I met a lot of really nice people and it was a blast. If you want to try a lot of different wines, dance with your friends, and learn something about wine, you should definitely give it a try. I would definitely do it again next year. Perhaps I’ll see you there. You can find out when the next one is happening over at Second Glass.