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From Oporto to Pape – a wine journey through Europe

Good news! Taste of Wine & Food has heard from our good friends and travel writers, Scott and Nancine Hagner. Every once in a while, they’re on the open road with their motor home, as long as it winds up next to a “yummy winery.” They have discovered tucked away wineries in the Northwest, Sonoma and Mexico with an eye toward less traveled destinations. In exchange, I turned Scott on to a wine shop that he simply can’t resist here in San Diego County. So much so, he has called it “The Candy Store.”

Their latest adventure took a different turn this time.

They left their motor home behind in San Diego and crossed the “big pond” to explore wine countries of Portugal and France. My traveler friends tend to think like I do. When they pack up and leave town for faraway places with many types of wineries, they do as I do and go for the opposite to the norm and pick the best for first! On this trip, they headed straight for the Douro Valley of Portugal and the legendary Oporto, home of the best ports in the world. The Douro River translates to “River of Gold.” Port, it must be told, is a dense concentrated wine, mostly red (although the Hagners found some whites) and is a blend of local grapes, zapped with a generous dose of Brandy, an after-dinner spirit, that brings the alcohol content up to about 20 percent.

Taste of Wine & Food travel writers Nancine and Scott Hagner this time stored their motor home and wound up on a Rhone River cruise in the southern heart of France.

They also observed that a number of ports had some very proper British names on the labels. The Sandeman 2015 got a big nod as a very flavorful port ($55). You may also be familiar with Graham, Dow, Churchill and Taylor Fladgate. All are British. These companies and other Brits introduced Port to the known world some centuries ago and still produce more than the locals.

The Hagners next went through Northern Spain to get to the Rhone River in France, boarding on a seven-night trip from Lyon south of Burgundy, to just north of the southern coast at Arles. This cruise by AMA Waterways is called “The Colors of Provence” with culinary kitchens and legendary vineyards that feature Beaujolais and Cotes du Rhone. The ship holds an intimate 160 or guests with restaurants, massage, a sundeck pool and shore excursions to wineries and vineyards. “Southern France provided many wine tasting experiences both on board and on shore,” Nancine said. “We learned about local wines from Marie and J. Pierre of Domaine Du Bois Pothier winery. The harvesting and de-stemming is all done manually. No irrigation is permitted (called dry farming) as rain is plentiful in this part of the world.” Beaujolais grapes are picked and bottled inexpensively in the same year, and a lot of this wine is sent to the U.S. for Thanksgiving and the holiday seasons. It’s a light bodied red made from the Gamay grape in the province of Beaujolais just north of Lyon.

Scott Hagner is shown in the famous M. Chapoutier wine cellar overlooking the Hermitage wine district of the Rhone River in the south of France.

Scott added that “we had several favorites on board from the famous Cote du Rhone region. They were primarily Syrah and Chardonnay in the northern district. We spent some time at the equally famous Hermitage region, mostly reds from the Syrah grape, with small quantities of white grapes like Rousanne and Marsanne, grown on very steep slopes.” At Chapoutier winery, one of the largest in the area, Nancine and Scott were presented a tasting of special red wines from Chateauneuf Du Pape (translates to “new castle of the pope” located off the right bank of the Rhone and north of Avignon. “Wines from this region are fuller bodied and are mostly red blends of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, said Nancine. “The rocky terrain provides structure and power. And they are delicious!”

The Rhone wine country along the river’s length is long and winding, and 250 miles in length. By comparison, Napa Valley is just 30 miles in length.

Our thanks to Nancine and Scott Hagner for their love of wine, so present in their stories of wine and travel.

Wine Bytes

  • La Gran Terraza at University of San Diego has a wine dinner on from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 27 featuring Beaujolais wines from France. This is a multi-course sit down dinner on the university campus. Cost is $60 each. Call (619) 849-8205 for an RSVP.
    Seasalt Seafood & Steak in Del Mar presents a Ruffino Estates wine dinner at 6 p.m. Nov. 29. Ruffino reflects the Italian wine heritage of Tuscany, including a Super Tuscan and a Brunello to pair with Seasalt cuisine. Cost is $66 per guest. Contact is (858) 755-7100.
  • Vittorio’s Trattoria in Carmel Valley San Diego is planning an Italy evening of wine and food starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 29. Main entrée is a duck confit with wild mushroom risotto, washed down with a Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco from Piemonte. Cost is $55 per person. RSVP at (858) 538-5884.
  • Vigilucci’s Seafood and Steakhouse across from the Pacific ocean in Carlsbad is hosting a DAOU winemaker dinner featuring Daniel Daou from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 29. Meet Daniel Daou from the high country of Paso Robles with a top menu of his wines to pair with Vigilucci’s inspirational entrees. Cost is $95 each. Call (760) 434-2580 for a reservation.

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