Wine Tasting…on a Cruise

On a day at sea on a cruise we took recently, they had a show at lunchtime.  It was a musical called “Wine Lovers: The Musical”, ( billed as wine tasting comedy show.  There was no way we could resist a meal with six wines to taste and a show, so we went.  It was as much to pass the time pleasantly as it was to learn anything about wine or wine tasting, and have a pleasant time.

Photo courtesy of Wine Lovers: The Musical

The lunch was no more than agreeable.  The wines were pleasant but fairly common labels and varietals.  The show was cute but predictable, with performers of quite some talent.  The information about wine was introductory.  But there was one song in the show that caught our imaginations.  It was called “See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, Swish, Spit.”  There it was – how to go wine tasting in six simple words, all beginning with the letter S.

What an interesting idea to build a musical on wine tasting and combine it with a wine tasting luncheon.  As we said, for us it was quite basic but it must not have been so for everyone in the room.  We’re sure the experience was valuable for some people.

Wherever our travels take us, we look for wine bars as a way of spending a pleasant time, especially in wine-making counties.  That’s the way to learn about the wines they make there.  At every wine tasting, we learn something;       that’s part of the experience of going wine tasting, be it at the vineyard, at a wine bar or (you never know) on a cruise.

You should always be open to experience, to new tastes and new ideas, especially form unexpected sources.  As we say in Power Tasting’s mission statement on our cover page, we want our readers “not to be intimidated by wine snobs on either side of the bar”.

The best advice to someone trying to learn from more experienced people is to keep your ears open and your mouth shut.  If you are new to wine tasting – or if you’ve been doing it for decades – our advice is to keep both your mind and your mouth open.


Frank Family Vineyards

There is a certain type of winery in Napa Valley (and elsewhere, too) that sets our teeth on edge.  Someone is a great success at something other than wine making, buys a property in Wine Country and vows to make wine that’s not only great in itself but reflects the values of his (always his) family and their tradition.  After all, this is the description of Joseph Phelps and many other great, great wine makers whose products have enriched our lives and those of many other wine lovers, so we cannot be doctrinaire.

To that select group we must add Rich and Leslie Frank, whose Frank Family Vineyards are located in Calistoga, at the northern end of Napa Valley.  They were big shots in television before opening their winery.  It is not our purpose at Power Tasting to review wines, but it is fair to say that we enjoy their wines very much.  Our objective is to pass along our views on the experience of wine tasting at wineries we have visited, and Frank Family gets high marks there, as well.

The site itself is historic.  There is a rather spare stone building, which was once the building of Hanns Kornell’s winery, where methode champenoise winemaking was introduced to America on a commercial basis.  The Franks bought the vineyards and the winery that Mr. Kornell had built.  As you drive up, you’ll find a spacious picnic area under the trees.  Evidently, Frank Family was grandfathered in; Napa County doesn’t give permits for picnicking to newer wineries.

The building hosting the tasting room has the feeling of an old home, with lots of wood and rooms leading from one to one another.  Cleverly, Frank Family has set up bars in several of the rooms, so it never feels very crowded.  You can also have a seated tasting, which we found worthwhile as you get to really savor their reserve wines.  This being Napa Valley, the top wines are Cabernet Sauvignons, especially the Patriarch, which is 100% Cab and quite expensive as well.

One of the bars at Frank Family

We found the servers to be quite knowledgeable about their wines and wine in general.  This may be because they knew we were from Power Tasting, so we hope that it is representative of the entire staff.  If you do take a reserve tasting, you’ll find it valuable to have several glasses so that you can compare different wines and, if you’re lucky and they have them open, different vintages of the same wine.  Our experience at Frank Family is that if you exhibit real interest in their wines, they go out of their way to provide you with an interesting experience with a lot of variety and interesting insights into their wines.

Many visitors to Napa Valley drive up from San Francisco and go wine tasting only in the southern end of the valley.  Now, we love the wines there too, but sometimes it pays to just keep driving north.  Calistoga itself has its own charms, being a bit more of an old-fashioned feel than some of the other towns in Napa Valley. There are very nice cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy your lunch.   And it has mud baths (ugh!).  It’s worth making the drive and if you do come up that way, make sure that Frank Family is on your itinerary.


ved Stranden 10, Copenhagen

Many of the world’s great cities have landmarks that are central to their images.  Tourists and locals alike gather at the Eifel Tower, Big Ben, the Coliseum and Time Square.  Other cities without such internationally known monuments offer something different; they’re great hanging out cities.  San Diego is one; so are Milan, Amsterdam and Madrid.  Let us introduce you to yet another, Copenhagen, and in particular a wine taster’s destination bar known by its address, ved Stranden 10.

First about the city.  The most famous locale in Copenhagen is Nyhavn, which is a long harbor, mostly for fishing and tourism boats.  All the buildings along the harbor are brightly colored and alongside is a long row of cafes under welcoming umbrellas.  Of course it’s full of tourists, but you find Danes there as well, especially at night. As we said, it’s a great place to hang out.  But so are the sidewalk restaurants on Gothersgade; the big square in the fashionable shopping district, in the middle of Højbro Plads (or Place); and the Street Food center across the main harbor.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen’s “new harbor”, only 300 years old

Which brings us to ved Stranden 10 ( It’s located alongside a canal  and from the outside, it’s an unassuming building on a quiet little street.  In warm weather, they have tables outside along the canal.  Ved Stranden 10 is a wine store and also a wine bar.  Inside, there’s a very small bar up front with pourers, waiters and customers scurrying about like mad.  There are a few tables and stools along one wall, but for the most part all you can do in the bar is stand and order.  There are several more rooms that are far more like someone’s rather chic Danish Modern living room than a wine bar.

So far, so nice.  What differentiates ved Stranden 10 from all other wine bars we’ve ever been to, is that most of the waiters are sommeliers and that there is no wine list!  Instead, you negotiate with your waiter.  He or she will ask, “What do you feel like drinking?”.  Maybe one wants a light white, somewhat austere, not very fruit forward and the other a robust red, chewy and full of fruit.  (That would be Lucie and Steve, respectively.)  The waiter will get a few glasses and bottles and pour little tastes.  “Does this work for you?”  If so, your glass will be filled.  If not, he or she will go get something else.  No one goes away disappointed.

Inside ved Stranden 10

You can’t say, “I’ll have a Pinot Noir” or a Bordeaux or a Sauvignon Blanc. They don’t work that way. You tell them you like Bordeaux but they don’t carry Bordeaux.  They will bring you a taste of what they think is similar to Bordeaux.   They have a lot of wines from obscure places, like Serbia or Turkey or some valley in Italy you’ve never heard of.  So the light white wine came from Sardinia and the big red was a Blaufrankisch from Austria.  We might have ordered those ourselves, but if there were something on a list that was more familiar, we never would have gotten to these wines.  The result is that we both got to drink some wines we weren’t familiar with, that met our taste preferences at that moment.

A word about the glasses.  If you choose to sit outside, they will use very nice glassware, but nothing you’d notice one way or the other.  But inside, they use some of the most delicate stemware we’ve ever drunk from.  The glasses are very light and the stems are so thin you feel like you’re going to snap them with your fingers.  (We didn’t.)  They don’t use them outside because the slightest breeze would knock them over.

Fair warning: you’ll have such a good time at ved Stranden 10 that when it’s time to sum up and pay, because you have no idea what the cost was of that glass of wine that you just ordered (remember, no wine list),  you’ll find that you had so many wines that the bill is bigger than you thought it would be.  You’ll probably conclude that it was money well spent, like we did.

Une dégustation, Monsieur?

If there’s anything better than a good wine, it’s a good story.  And a good story about a good wine is even better.

Many years ago, Steve was vacationing in the south of France and of course he had to go wine tasting.  At the time – this was a long while ago – he hadn’t had much experience with Rhone wines.  Being in the Rhone valley, this trip was in fact his real introduction to the wines of the region.  He asked the hotel he was staying at for recommendations of wineries to visit and they handed him a list of their favorites.  Thus informed, Steve set out for wine tasting adventures.

Adventures indeed!  The hotel didn’t mention how small and convoluted the roads are in the southern Rhone valley and he got thoroughly lost.  But little by little, he did locate most of the wineries on the list.  Of course, in France they are all closed for lunch, so many of Steve’s finds did not lead to wine tasting.  Near day’s end, he rolled into the village of Vacqueyras (va-KAY-rass) and asked about one of the places on his list.  His French was good enough that the local folks knew what he was talking about (okay, maybe they read it off his list) and with some finger-pointing and sign-reading, he eventually arrived at Clos de Cazaux.

What he saw was a farm house, surrounded by a vineyard, with a few outbuildings scattered around the house.  A very small, frail, old woman came out of the house, looked Steve over, and figured out that he must be a wine tourist.  What ensued was a conversation in Steve’s barely adequate French; fortunately the old lady spoke very slowly so Steve could understand her.

Here’s what ensued:


Entrez dans ma cave, monsieur.

Come into my cave, sir.  This was one of the outbuildings.

 Nous avons quatre vins, deux Vacqueyras et deux Gigondas.

We have four wines, two from Vacqueyras and two from Gigondas (the next village over, also well known for its red wines.)

Les vins de Vacqueyras sont traditionnelle, fait de Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre et Cinsault.

The Vacqueyras wines are traditional, made of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre et Cinsault.  Steve nods.

Un de Gigondas est traditionnel aussi, mais l’autre est fait juste pour les Anglais.  Syrah pur.

One of the Gigondas wines is traditional too, but the other is made just for the English.  It’s pure Syrah.

Steve realized that by “les Anglais” the woman meant him.  And so she poured him the first taste he ever had of a Rhone wine that’s one of his favorites even today, Cuvée des Templiers.  The Templiers, or Knights Templar in English, were an order of knighthood in the Middle Ages who (supposedly) kept themselves pure to fight the Crusades.  They were and are well represented on the label.

Photo courtesy of

Now roll forward some 25 years.  Steve and Lucie are vacationing in the southern Rhone valley.  Steve has learned quite a bit about Rhone wines in the intervening years, but Lucie is an expert, a Chevalier de la Commanderie de Costes de Rhone.  They are in Rasteau on a Sunday and all the wineries are closed.  The only place in town to buy wines is the Tourist Information Bureau.  So they go, buy a few bottles and chat with the young woman who is staffing the bureau.  By now, Steve has forgotten the name of the vineyard but remembers the story, which he relates in his now much improved French, courtesy of Lucie.  Can the information woman help them to find the winery again?

She says (in French, of course), “Of course I know the winery.  The old woman is my mother-in-law and she’s still alive.  But Cuvée des Templiers is not made just for the English.  We love it too.  And it’s not and never was pure Syrah.  I’ll be working there tomorrow, so come by and I’ll open a bottle for you.”

Small world, n’est-ce-pas?