How To Not Die While Drinking Chinese Wine

By Jack Turley, Chinese Banquet Survivor

There are many spoken phrases that send shivers through my spine.  Perhaps the most frightening of all, uttered night after night during past business trips to China was “As our honored guest, we have a special surprise for you.  Tonight we are having a traditional Chinese banquet!”

Oh please God no.

how to not die while drinking Chinese wine
Author Jack Turley holding the honorific Chicken Head

I long ago fell in love with China, and it is still my favorite place in the world.  The people are amazing, the culture beyond compare, and the cities and countryside are mesmerizing.  The hospitality that a speaker from the West receives is remarkable. 

The food can be…uh…interesting.

I’m not one to talk trash about the textural subtleties of Duck Tongue, or think disparagingly about Chicken Claws (or even the more rare Chicken Beaks).  You won’t even see me cringe when given the traditional honored guest serving of Fish Eyeballs.  Unusual food aside, it is an incredible place, and I recommend that you put it at the top of your bucket list.

I spent most of my time in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.  There were regional differences in the food, both subtle and extreme, but the one thing that unifies the palates of this geographically huge and diverse country is their wine.

It is awful.  I mean really awful.

All Chinese banquets have many things in common.  For instance, the tables are big (the smallest ones seat 12), round, and have a lazy Susan in the middle.  Upon those lazy Susans will be placed tons of food, and they will keep bringing more no matter what you say.  If you are foolish enough to clean your plate, (which insults your hosts by showing they did not provide enough food for his guests), people will take food off their plate and put it on yours.

Another commonality to Chinese banquets is that there will be toasts.  Lots of toasts.  And Chinese custom is not to say a quick sentence, tip your glass to the crowd, and have a sip of your drink.  Oh no.  Chinese toasts are only complete when your glass is empty, and as the guest of honor, there is no doubt that your glass will be kept full at all times.

The meal will not be considered a success unless each person at the table has made a toast (NOTE:  always try and sit at the smallest table).  Twelve people at your table means at least twelve toasts.  If you’re lucky, you will be at a very upscale restaurant with Australian, Chilean, or Argentinian wine.  On very rare occasions, you will be served French or American wine.  But most likely, you will be served something from China’s burgeoning wine industry.

Chinese wine is not all that bad.  It has a proven history as an industrial solvent, a bathroom disinfectant, and a valve lubricant.  That the rich, fertile wine regions of China receive their grape-enhancing sunlight through thick, smelly smog-filtered skies can only be seen as a positive.

Hey, they’re trying.  They’re really trying.  And given the resources being applied, it’s only a matter of time before it approaches international quality standards.

But for now, while being served a bottle of “Xanxchao Vineyards ’08 Reddish Grape”, you may wonder if your host is indeed trying to kill you.  Do not worry.  It is simply not so, no matter how much the wine’s afterburn makes you suspicious.

And if you follow my advice, based on my hard-earned experience, there is a way out of this.  My many  trips (and several stomach pumpings) have taught me that your secret weapon is in anticipating the toast.  The best way to do this is to always keep your eyes moving to see if someone is looking at you, about to raise a glass.  If you can see it coming, you have three plays available to you:

  1. Go for your cell phone – right as you see your host go for his glass of grape sludge, pick up your cell phone, look at it, raise your finger toward your host in that silent “so sorry, I have to take this” gesture, and walk away from the table.  With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to time your “call” to last for as many as three more toasts.
  2. Prepare a dash to the bathroom – as in the example above, anticipate and stand, saying in the only really important Chinese word you bothered to memorize, “cèsuǒ” (toilet).  You should be able to stay away from the table for at least six toasts, seven if you come back with your hand over your stomach and a pained expression on your face.
  3. Play the jetlag card – halfway through dinner, confide in your host that the jetlag is overpowering you, and it would bring honor to your family and glory to your company if you could be excused from the festivities early.  Do this even if it is your third week in China.

Someday China will emerge as one of the great wine making countries.  We’ll all be dead by then, but your grandchildren (or perhaps their grandchildren) will in the future enjoy wonderful wine, expertly crafted, and at a cost of only 12 cents a glass.  Until then, cover for me…I think they are about to do another toast.

How to not die while drinking Chinese wine
Jack Turley: Experienced Chinese Banquet Survivor


September, 2011 is “California Wine Month”!

You may have missed the press release.  Nestlted right in there somewhere between the one about Sacramento declaring “Don’t step on a bee day” and “Skip and go Naked day” and “Cherry Pit Spitting Contest Day” I just received notice that our state legislature has finally dedicated 30 entire days ( let me see now, is that right?  ’30 days hath Sept… yep) to the contributions of our state’s wine industry.

You see, our industry deserves an entire 30 days of celebration.  And here’s why – our state’s debt would be considerably deeper were it not for wine industry contributions!  They include over $18 Billion (with a B) in revenue, 20 million tourists annually (many of which have discovered this great iPhone app for touring Napa!), 330,000+ jobs, and countless numbers of bewitched dreamers who fall in love with and over our state’s wines every night.

Yeah, yeah, what’s in it for us?  Lots, actually, if you have some free time this month.  There are dozens and dozens of events taking place in September to celebrate California Wine Month.  If you’re in the state of CA and have a few hours free, you’re likely just a short drive away from SOME sort of wine event – find the complete event listing here – and check back often, updates are being posted as the word gets out.  (BTW, I had to scroll down to find the listing – seems to be a formatting glitch, at least on Google Chrome)

Here’s hoping you can find time to get out there and enjoy one of California’s great wine producing areas.  And should you need help in planning your visit, here’s a highly affordable ($26) wall map of California wineries that is the best I’ve found – it’s published by the fine folks at DeLongs, who are painstaking in their detail.  I love these guys as well as their products.

Save 15% on CA Wines!
And if your schedule just doesn’t allow you to enjoy an event in California wine country, the least I can do is make it easier for you to enjoy some California wine.  Here’s a link to a 15% discount on most of the CA wines I have in stock (selected wines are not eligible)

Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

Gratallops – The Heart of the Priorat Wine Region

The Village of Gratallops
The Village of Gratallops - the heart of the Priorato

I highly recommend that any serious wine lover visit Priorat –  the wine region just 100 miles outside Barcelona.

Not only is Barcelona one of Europe’s great cities (Super-Wife says it’s her favorite, while Cole and I say Paris wins by a nose), but you hop in a car at the Barcelona airport and you’re in the wine country within a couple of pleasant hours.  Actually, that’s not saying much – you can be in “wine country” within a couple hours of anywhere in Spain – the country has 67 “DO’s”, or “regional designations” granted for the consistent quality of their wine.

Narrow streets of Gratallops in Spain's Priorat wine region
Rear-view mirrors cleared by just inches!

But just a few hours outside Barcelona one can find three of Spain’s notable wine regions – Priorat, Montsant (which forms a near-perfect donut around Priorat) or Penedés (where most of Spain’s best sparkling wine is produced).  But of these, Priorat is the most notable, one of but three wine regions earning Spain’s top-tier designation of “DOC” (Denominación de Origen Calificada, along with Rioja and (just recently) Ribera del Duero – see sample, here).  This top-tier classification is also known as “DOQ” in Catalan, which is still common in this Northeastern part of Spain.

But the wine pilgrim must be warned in advance – while some of Priorat’s wines justify their worldly reputation, many more are the result of carpet baggers seeking the advantage of Priorat’s reputation with wines that are less interesting but no less expensive.  To help avoid the clinkers, the wise traveler will form a bond of trust with a local, and ask for opinions.  Such time-saving advice will usually be offered within the first shared drink – not only a wise investment of your time and money, but also the chance to make a great and interesting connection – two good reasons for overcoming the initial hesitation for the mono-lingual traveler.

Though the wines of Montsant may be lesser known, they are highly affordable and the best far exceed the worst of Proirat.  Plus, wine fans will enjoy the agricultural paradise of Montsant.  This region is known for its olives, almonds, and honey in addition to its wine, grown in the local soil known as Licorella – just as rocky as the Schist found in Priorat’s vineyards.  And here’s an extra plus for Montsant – we found far fewer tourists in the towns of Montsant than in those of Priorat, though we suspect the next Peter Mayle is already hard at work on the book that will soon bring this region to the world’s attention, resulting in an influx of ex-pat settlers.

The agricole cooperative in Siruana, Spain
Different types of sherry at the Agricole cooperative

But until then, it is quiet and idyllic, an area with sufficient visual rewards to justify throwing away New World notions such as maps and schedules in favor of simply following your whim and a few roadsigns.  On these scenic agricultural backroads, you might drive for an hour before encountering another car. Visit old towns where shops still shut down during lunch hours, and where the store at the agricultural co-op sells a wide variety of local products, from wine to honey to almonds to olive oil.  Be sure to bring some empty bottles to be filled with the co-op’s community wines (photo, right) – usually very affordable and surprisingly good.

But this posting will run for pages if I don’t limit its scope to the picturesque town of Gratallops, in the very heart of the Priorat.  This town of just 250 permanent residents plays host to a large number of wine writers, tourists, and merchants over the course of an average year.

Schist - what passes for "soil" in Priorat - lends a distinctive minerality to area wines.

As with many agricultural areas, the Priorat (or Priorato, as it was known in the pre-revolutionary days) was an area in decline for  most of the 1900’s.  Then in the 1980’s the Pastrana family, who had been poking around the area for more than a decade, resurrected some old Garnacha, Cariñena   and Tempranillo vines on their property, re-introducing these premium grape varietals along with a modern, trellised vineyard and contemporary winegrowing techniques.  As owner Carles Pastrana tells it “We brought a focus on quality to the region and thought we were building a legacy for our grandchildren, or if things went really well, for our children.”

But things happened much faster than that. In 1989 their very first wine was released to rave reviews and huge scores from one rather influential wine writer named Robert Parker Jr.

Suddenly the family winery – Clos de l’Obac (photo, left) rocketed the Priorat region to the forefront of the wine world.  Other producers followed suit, and today the region is home to a handful of wealthy producers, living and working in towns very much like Gratallops, each connected to each other by miles of roadways so narrow you’ll be glad you didn’t opt for the upgrade at the rental car agency.  Caution – never be in a hurry here, as it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself chugging along behind some slow-moving piece of farm equipment.  Remember, Priorat’s roads of today were their mule trails of yesteryear.

Hotel Cal Llops in Gratallops - priorat wine country
Hotel Cal Llops - Click for web page

For such a small town, Gratallops is home to several great restaurants, even though schedules are somewhat vexing.  Spain is a wonderful country for foodies, and this region is no exception.  Clos de l’Obac has their own restaurant in town, and the chef at the village’s main hotel – Cal Llop (or Wolf’s Den – photo at right) – is quite accomplished in his own right.  We highly recommend the hotel both for its food and the charm and hospitality of its staff (

Gratallops art in town square - priorat wine country
Artist's rendition of the "scratching wolves" of Gratallops

Though the town of Gratallops (Grah ta yoops) was saved from ruin by the wine industry and its related tourism, its documented history goes back thousands of years.  In fact, its name is first found in a document dated 1258, though the town existed under a different name during the Moorish occupation of the region.

Gratallops translates, roughly, as “where the wolves (llops) come to scratch.  Apparently, this hilltop town was a popular claw-sharpening destination prior to being over-run with Homo sapiens.  Take 30 minutes to walk all the streets in this hilltop town and you’ll see multiple artistic references to said wolves in various scratching positions, including the one shown in our photo at left.

On a final note, it must be said that most of the wonderful wines you’ll discover here are unavailable in the U.S., such as those from Freddy Torres, a garagiste producer right in the heart of Gratallops.  And those that ARE found here are inevitably red, and invariably pricey.

So it was with great surprise and pleasure that one of my favorite distributors recently introduced me to the white wine from Igneus, a producer just up the road from Gratallops.  Their 2009 Barranc Dels Closos ($26) is a captivating blend of Macabao (Mack-ah Bay-oh – a white varietal rarely found outside Spain), Garnatxa Blanca (aka Grenache Blanc, or white Grenache), Pedro Ximinez and a trace of Muscat. It is both aromatically rich and yet medium-bodied and refreshing.  It may just be impossible to find a more perfect wine for the regional specialty of Barcelona – paella – though I’d thoroughly enjoy the challenge!

Old Partners, New Wine Bar

Image from SLO Tribune. Click to read full story.

Anyone planning a visit to the Central Coast wine country needs to know about a new wine bar in Pismo Beach.  Owned by two of my six former partners in our Solvang wine bar – Tastes of the Valleys – this one operates under the same name (“Tastes of the Valleys, the sequel?”) but uses a very different concept, and one I really like!

Ash and Lissa Mehta are the sole owners of Tastes of the Valleys in Pismo Beach.  This independence has allowed them to take advantage of the lighter management overhead, using their experience with the Solvang facility to run things as they think it should be, without five other opinions to contend with.  A lesson in Business Management, if ever there was one!  Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Pismo Beach - the strip at sunset

While passing Pismo recently, my family and I stopped in for a brief visit to the new Tastes of the Valleys, where we were warmly greeted by Lissa.  I was most impressed by what they’d accomplished.  And yes, it made me want to get back into the wine bar business on my own!  While I enjoy the individual tasting room experience a winery can provide, such wine bars offer important advantages, both in efficiency and safety.

A Safer Alternative

The Central Coast wine country is massive, and wineries tend to be separated by long stretches of roads full of twists and turns. And drinking can become problematic when driving between tasting rooms.  So for wine pilgrims in search of new favorites from the Central Coast, I recommend visiting just one or two tasting rooms to take in the beauty of the vineyard setting, then spending the afternoon and evening in Pismo where you can taste the night away as you try to make your way through Tastes of the Valleys 150+ wines by the glass!  There are numerous hotels just a short walk away.

You read that correctly – over 150 wines by the glass.  The Mehta’s have made this possible for thirsty wine pilgrims by using the latest in nitrogen-infused dispensers that preserve the wine as it is dispensed.  Such dispensers have been around for ages, but not like this – Tastes of the Valleys (Pismo) has installed four of the latest versions, which provide an important twist – stoppers that allow the bottles to be removed from the unit.  In this way, the Mehta’s aren’t limited by the number of spigots on the dispensers.  Combine this feature with a handful of great, simple food items (including $9 for some great individual pizzas that are to dye for) and they’ve put together a winning formula.

Stop in and visit Ash and Lissa the next time you’re passing Pismo Beach.  Mention that you’re a friend of mine and they’ll likely only charge you a 10% – 15% premium over less fortunate customers!


“Outstanding in the Field” Dinner at Devil’s Gulch

Outstanding In The Field is a tale of overnight success that was 12 years in the making. Having almost quit the business on more than one occasion, founder Jim Deneven is finally earning a living from the “Farm to Table” field dining business he started in Santa Cruz in 1998.

His idea is basic – take a group of foodies to a local farm for instructional tours while top chefs get to work in Jim’s mobile “field kitchen” using local, artisanal ingredients. Apres-tour, the guests enjoy a family-style dinner amidst the host farmer’s field. Jim was an early evangelist of the Farm to Table movement, and now tours North America (and now Europe) with his concept, working with some of the world’s leading thinkers in alternative and sustainable agriculture. After twelve years, they’ve gotten pretty good at this – our experience Sunday night was just one of more than 60 dinners planned for their North American tour.

My wife and I had the pleasure of joining Jim and 148 other guests at this weekend’s dinner at Mark Pasternak’s Devil’s Gulch farm and vineyards in Marin. After parking in “town” next to the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, shuttle vans took the diners across the rickety wooden bridge and a mile or so up to the vineyard. The mood in the van was quiet and anticipatory, with one woman’s conversation being heard above the occasional quite murmur. We were to be treated to the culinary stylings of Steffan Terje (Perbacco, Barbacco) and his able-bodied crew, who did the heavy lifting in the field kitchen while Jim’s and his team ran the “front room” duties.

Upon arrival at the vineyard, Jim’s cheerful and competent staff served appetizers of crushed fresh pea with mint (from Mariquita Farm in Watsonville) and Ricotta (from Liam Callahan’s Bellweather Farms) along with two spreadable salumi from Devil’s Gulch, both made from the farm’s hogs. Appetizers were served with a Pey Marin Riesling, which I found to be well made for a domestic Riesling but too dry to compliment the spice of the salumi.

The evening was cool but sunny, and the views enough to erase a week’s worth of stress. Though the vineyard’s terraced slopes gave me great sympathy for those who harvest the fruit, and made me glad I’m on the final end of the wine business, where comfy chairs often come into play.

After a walk through the Devil’s Gulch vineyard and down to their hog pen, we returned to the tables set for the 150 guests (their Bay Area stops on their North American Tour sell out so quickly they do one on Saturday and one on Sunday).

The evening sun helped to offset the cold and ceaseless wind, but layers of clothing and blankets emerged from the packs of the experienced customers faster than the dinner courses, which started with an amazing confit of rabbit from Devil’s Gulch (the Pasternak’s travel extensively, lecturing on the use of rabbits as a sustainable protein source for urban farmers) and grilled asparagus. This was served with a Chardonnay that didn’t work too well with the asparagus, but neither did the Martinelli pinot our friends Jim and Lisa had brought. The latter, an opulent pinot in the typical Turley style, was widely shared, and suddenly our neighbors became part of our party as well. Funny how wine makes that happen.

I almost forgot about this next course! What a waste that would have been, as it was truly amazing. I must state that I’m not normally a fan of gnocchi, as it can get too heavy and, at its worst, grey and starchy. But when you substitute the Bellweather Farms ricotta for potato, and blend it with just enough flour to hold its shape, the pasta is beautifully light and airy. Now stir in some ramps, wild mushrooms and (mark of the Spring season!) fava beans, and then pair it all with the Pey Marin 2007 Pinot – pure heaven. We also opened the 2007 Pinot we’d brought from Roederer Estates in Anderson Valley, and found its relative leanness worked beautifully with this dish.

Next to come was the main course – slow-roasted pork from the Pasternak’s farm and more of the Pey Marin pinot, whose oak was more pronounced than in our Roederer, which I surprisingly preferred – I’d looked forward to trying the famed Pey-Marin pinot. The pork was served with artichokes and spring onion with olive-oil crushed potatoes. Then out came the2008 Dutton-Goldfield 2008 Pinot from the very vines we dined between, and it just may have been my favorite of the evening.

Dessert was no mere afterthought. Terje and his staff came up with a divine inspiration and pulled it off flawlessly despite the challenges of a field kitchen and 150 servings – strawberries on top of a baked merangue with sweetened Crème Fraîche from Bellweather Farms. As you know, most of my recipes are savory, wine-centric musings. But I’m determined to find a way to get this one into the line-up! I’d not be surprised to find this one in our regular spring-time repertoire.

After the dinner, the mood on the shuttle vans was notably different. Louder. Cards were exchanged. Perhaps a phone number or two. Designated driving duties negotiated. Monday morning was dreaded by all.

I hope you get a chance to try one of the dinners from Outstanding in the Field. But doing so takes some doing, and some cash. Each seat sells for $180 – $240, and most of the 60+ events on their North American Tour have already sold out. Still, it’s an experience worth saving for.


Touring Napa – My New iPhone App!

Click for more on my new iPhone app
Note the 3 "wine bottle buttons" (top). Red = Co-ops, Green = open tasting, and Purple = appointment only. (Wineries closed to the public limited to our List View)

After many months of work with my development partners at Transitions 2, I am proud to announce the launch of my new iPhone app “NapaWineries“!

For less than one measly U.S. Dollar, visitors to our nation’s top wine country destination can now get insider insights to help plan their next visit.

And with over 500 tasting options in Napa, it’s nice to have this travel guide on your iPhone!  It’s like taking me along as your tour guide without having to buy me lunch.

Features of “NapaWineries”

MAP VIEW – colored pins indicate location plus –  “Open for Tasting”, “Appointment Only”, and “Co-ops” (multi-winery tasting rooms).  Turn on location mapping, and your location is shown relative to the winery map!

INSIDER INSIGHTS – read my comments about favorite places, styles of wines, and great places to picnic!  Refresh your app before each visit, as our data updates occur regularly!

LIST VIEW – all Napa Valley tasting facilities including hours, pricing, and tasting information.

DIRECTIONS – Easily click-through to get driving directions

APPOINTMENTS – One-click calling for tasting appointments.

NOTES – record your thoughts and reactions.  Find a new favorite?  Had a bad experience and you’ll never go back?  Record it here!

Got an iPhone?  Download Now!

Sorry, this app is currently available only on iPhones and iPads.  Users of the iPad will note that it needs some resizing to be optimized – it’s on our development list!

Download today from the iPhone App Store (just search for napawineries), or click the button on the right to download from the iTunes store – the app will show up on your phone the next time you synch.


NZ Wine Country Slide Show

What with my old college roommate touring New Zealand with his family, and sending tempting missives back every few days, today’s release of this slide show seems most appropriate!  NZ Wine Country at its best…

Dave the Wine Merchant

Wine Book Review – In Search of Bacchus, George Taber

In Search of Bacchus When Simon and Schuster’s publicist asked if I’d review George Taber’s latest book, I didn’t hesitate.   I’d enjoyed his previous books “To Cork or Not to Cork” and “The Judgment of Paris” and a new book from the retired journalist, wine collector and author was likely to provide hours of enjoyment.

But his new book arrived at a bad time.  I was in the middle of a wine club shipment and all my spare reading time was already divided between two biographies – one on Robert Parker and an out-of-print book on James Beard.  These were forced to the back of my night stand with only a minor amount of fisticuffs and complaints, the books embodying the self-promoting characteristics of their respective subjects.  And then I dove into “In Search of Bacchus“, and it was like taking a mental vacation to 12 of the best wine regions in the world.

This book is partly a travelogue written during his visits to a dozen of the world’s premium wine-growing regions.  The reader is introduced to each new region with a relatively brief (~25 pages) overview of regional winemaking history and the three or four wineries most critical to its current level of success. Each region could easily justify a book unto itself, perhaps even several several volumes, but “In Search of Bacchus” is a useful introduction to each growing region.  A temptation to travel.

These introductory sections are written in Taber’s identifiable style – high-toned, well-researched and erudite – reflecting his chops honed during his years as a journalist (and a well-schooled wine enthusiast).  I found each of these sections quite useful, packed with useful bits of insight and information.  As you complete each chapter, you’ll swear you’ve found the location for your next wine pilgrimage (honey we’ve got to go to this one, no wait, THIS one!  no, no…)

Following each detailed section is a brief story about Taber’s experience at one of the wineries mentioned.  While the entire book is written in the first person, this is where the reader feels as if he/she is actually looking over Taber’s shoulder.  It is less fact-driven, more intimate, and only slightly frustrating in that many of the experiences Taber relates are not available to the average wine tourist without his insider connections.

Picking Nits
I’m a fan of Taber’s work.  But I do find his style a bit dry.  Never does he squeal with delight, moan in the pain of a hangover, or admit to a lusty thought or other human foible.  With his apparent writing skills, I’m sure Taber could craft an ode to make a lover swoon.  But he doesn’t reveal that side of himself here, and while I appreciate his dispassionate professionalism, I’d also welcome a glimpse behind the Taber curtain from time to time.   Otherwise, he might as well be writing about economics instead of the greatest, most sensual beverage on earth.  I mean, the Romans also called Bacchus “The Liberator”, a God who could free one from one’s normal self through madness, ecstasy or wine!

In person, Taber strikes me as someone you’d enjoy sitting next to at a long dinner – interesting, unassuming, and friendly.  See for yourself:

Wine & Tourism – Finding the Right Balance
One of the issues surrounding wine tourism is the issue of access.  Taber doesn’t shy away from the fact that some wineries actively discourage tourists (well, mostly in Bordeaux, not surprisingly) while others put wine on the back burner with massive, tightly-packed tasting rooms, huge (and barely-trained) pouring staffs, and more souvenirs and paraphernalia than wine.   Such differences exist between individual wineries more than between wine regions, with both extremes even found in tourist-hungry Napa.  This book quietly raises the issue, and the wise wine pilgrim can then rely on the internet to develop an itinerary that suits their particular style.

Buying “In Search of Bacchus”
Despite these nits, with its release date so close to the holidays it seems obvious that “In Search of Bacchus” will be one of the biggest wine books of this holiday season, and I can’t think of another new wine book I’d rather read. Those interested in buying a copy for their favorite wine-lover can simply click here (also available as an eBook, though in Epub format only.  I make no commission on sales of this book).

And now that I’ve completed the book and am nearing completion of this review, my books on Parker and Beard are over on my nightstand, fighting to see which gets read tonight.  It appears to be a pretty good fight.

Dave the Wine Merchant

Travel With Wine, Not Honey

baggage-claim“I think that’s your bag, honey!” she said.

“It’s not the last one off the plane?  Yay!” I said

“I’ll get it” she said.

“Thanks” I said.

“I hope the wine’s OK” she said.

“It always is” I said.

“(Grunting) Got it!” she said.”

“Daddy it’s all sticky” the little she said.

“Something must have leaked onto it in the hold” I said.

“I just hope it’s not the honey we bought.” she said

“No way.” I said, knowing in my heart she was right.

honey-dew-2Next to several bottles of wine, I’d packed two jars of honey.   It was special honey, from bees who make their living pollinating plants in Spain’s fertile Montsant region.  (Actually, I doubt whether bees respect appellational boundaries, so some of their pollinating likely took place in the neighboring Priorat DOC/DOQ.  Blessed little trespassers!)

During my years of travel to foreign wine lands, I’ve always brought samples safely home by wrapping them in excess clothing and then snugly  tucking them inside my checked luggage (article here).

But not this time – the photo at right shows the honey-clad suitcase after unpacking the sticky mess. You should’a seen the clothes.

Up to now, I’d had a 100% success rate in bringing home wine samples unscathed.  So, why were the odds Gods working against me this time?  Before you abandon hope of using this (usually) reliable technique, you may want to consider two refinements to the basic technique:

  1. I packed so lightly, saving room for my eagerly anticipated wine booty, there was insufficient clothing to adequately wrap the honey jars.  Your goal is to prevent movement of the bottles, especially when your bag is mishandled.  If need be, recruit partially empty rolls of toilet paper and stuff them into your empty spaces.
  2. Three bottles of our wine were housed in a wooden box from Clos de L’Obac, and it was contact with the corner of this box that broke the honey pot.  Despite the attractiveness of wooden wine boxes, I recommend mustering your restraint and leaving them at your hotel, IF you plan to transport other breakables in the same bag.

All in all, I am still a confident supporter of this (usually) reliable technique, and continue to recommend its use for safely returning with wine samples intact.

It's hard work, but somebody's gotta do it

Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day

“”The only reason for being a bee is to make honey… and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.”
~ Winnie the Pooh From ‘House at Pooh Corner’ by A.A. Milne