Wednesday, 4 November 2020

60,000 Bottles of Wine, 6 Wine Cellars - A Visit to Palais Coburg Vienna

Recently I was lucky enough to have a private tour of the Palais Coburg wine cellars in Vienna, which house 60,000 bottles (give or take) of wines from a double magnum of Romanee-Conti 2004 to 1845 Tokaji to 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild to Sassicaia, Sine Qua Non and beyond.  I'm sure there are more reasonably priced and more every-day bottles in this incredible series of wine rooms which serve the luxury all-suite hotel that the Palais Coburg has become, but I have to confess I passed them by.

'The Palais Coburg was originally owned by the Kohary branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Designed in 1839 by architect Karl Schleps in Neoclassical style, and built from 1840 to 1845 by Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha atop the Braunbastei (Brown Bastion), a part of the Vienna city defences dating to 1555. It is nicknamed the Spargelburg ("castle of asparagus") for its central portico with many freestanding columns.' 

The palatial hotel has 33 suites and it was the venue for the historic Iran nuclear deal reached on 14 July 2015.

Inside you can see a map of the original walled city on the floor near the entrance, plus some of the original walls, down near the cellars.  Click here to read the full history of the Palais Coburg.  Down in the wine cellars there are different cellars for French Wines, New World Wines, Old World Wines, Chateau d'Yquem, Rare Wines, and Champagne.  Inevitably after one tour of all of these wonders you really need a lie down or a strong drink - there is so much to take in.




Highlights for me were the superb bottles of Chateau d'Yquem, the Chateau Mouton Rothschild, particularly the 1945 and 1982, the collection of venerable Austrian wines and surprisingly some very rare (and very expensive) bottles of Sine Qua Non from California.

Having visited several of the excellent wine stores in Vienna, where you can actually buy the wine and take it away with you, as opposed to drinking these legendary wines in one of the two restaurants at the Palais Coburg or at one of their events I saw many excellent wines, some expensive, some very reasonably priced, from Spain, Italy, France and Austria (and managed to taste quite a few, coming up next).

However I have never seen a collection such as this one and if you're a wine lover and you visit Vienna you should try and see this legendary collections of the greatest wines in the world.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

The 3 Best Apps for Wine Enthusiasts

For those who enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, or frequently, and would love to know more but either don’t want to ask or don’t have too much time, these are my three favourite apps for wine information, whether it’s the wine in your wine rack (or cellar), the wine you had at a friend’s house or that expensive wine you had in a restaurant.

There are a multitude of apps that will tell you about wine, so many that it can be confusing.  Here are my favourites.Vivino
Vivino is a free app which almost certainly has the best label scanner, which is very good at analysing any label you offer it (take a photo within the app and you’re done).  I recently tried numerous bottles including a difficult to read gold labelled Margaux and it succeeded with every one.  Wait for the ‘voila’, click on ‘use’ and then you’ll find out the average retail price of your wine and then you can click through to buy it from an online merchant if you want to.

You’ll also find a summary of basic information, including region, grape and food pairing.  Click on ‘winery’ for example, to learn about alternative wines and how to contact the wine maker direct.

Alternatively if there’s a wine you want to know more about, where you don’t have the bottle to hand, just use the search facility for information including the price and reviews.  These are user ratings rather than official ratings but you can see who has provided the rating and how many wines they have rated on Vivino.

You can also work out how much the mark-up is if you’re in a restaurant, which can be annoying if you’ve shelled out a large amount for a wine that doesn’t cost that much.  My advice?  Restaurant mark-ups are in many cases over the top but don’t let it spoil your dinner, nor your wine.  Look it up later……

Desktop, Android and iOs versions.  Create an account and you can see everything on any device by logging in.

Wine-Searcher is an invaluable tool.  it’s a wine search engine and price comparison website with an incredibly easy search facility.  Put pretty much anything into the search engine from the winery to the name of the wine, and then narrow it down by vintage and country.  Once you locate your wine you’ll see where you can (or can’t) buy it and find out immediately the average price, the region, the producer, the grape variety, and what to pair it with.

Then click through to the Tasting Notes to see some major critics scores, notes and awards.  There’s a wealth of information here.

The free version doesn’t include all stockists.  If you want to see everyone on their database you need to sign up to (and pay for) the Pro Version so if you’re always looking for that wine you tried recently you should sign up although see below, as there are so many wine subscription sites.

Cellar Tracker

Cellar Tracker is another excellent wine information and cellar management website and app.  It has a very quick search facility.  Find the wine you’re searching for, then, if it’s one that you own you can add it into your virtual cellar.  You can also see how it was rated.  Cellar Tracker has one of the largest databases of community wine tasting notes.

Cellar Tracker is about what you have in your wine cellar.  So forget about listing wines in a book and use this instead.  Cellar Tracker was originally created in 2003 by Eric LeVine as a way to keep track of his own cellar.  At the time he was working at Microsoft.  This is most probably the best ‘cellar tracker ‘available.  And it’s free, although if you want more facilities such as some pro scores, and automatic cellar valuation, you need to donate.

Also consider:

Wine is a US wine store but, and it’s a big but here, if they have the wine you’re want to know more about, and they have an enormous – they call it the world’s largest – selection of wines, search for it and you can see all the pro critic ratings which can save you a lot of subscription money.

I searched for New Zealand Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and could immediately see that Robert Parker Wine Advocate gave the 2017 vintage 90 points, James Suckling and Wine Spectator both gave the 2016 vintage 90 points.

There are many wine critic subscription based websites so if you find your wine here on the free ratings are a bonus. 

Which wine critic should you subscribe to/listen to?  There are so many.  Another post to come....

Sunday, 26 January 2020

How Important is your Wine Glass?

Wine glasses - fad or fashion?  It used to be that cut wine glasses were 'the thing' and if you didn't have a glittering array of cut glass on your table you hadn't got it right.

Wine glasses have changed hugely over the past few years, to the point when pretty much most popular wine glasses are super thin, super tall and super large, unless they're stemless, of course.

'Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the capacity of wine glasses has ballooned nearly seven-fold over the past 300 years, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with a surge in wine consumption.'  So you really shouldn't be that surprised if you're given a glass that holds most of a bottle.

Putting size aside, and as someone who loves to travel and dine out, there are some truly fabulous taste enhancing wine glasses out there, and I've taken to asking in a restaurant (if I like the glassware) who the designer/glass maker is - so along with wine this can become another extremely expensive hobby.....

Riedel seems to be the No 1 favourite most probably because it's the most widely available and for the entry level glasses not over priced.  Having said that, the top of the range glasses are beautiful.  Try them out at Wolfgang Puck's Cut at 45 Park Lane....

Zwiesel 1872 - not to be confused with the less expensive (but great value) sister brand Schott Zwiesel.  Handmade lead crystal glasses of the highest quality. Glasses from this glass maker can be found at 3* Epicure at Le Bristol Paris.

Zalto is a new generation of modern wine glasses, beautifully designed and pricier than many.  Along with Mark Thomas's double bend wine glasses - below -  these are loved by Sommeliers and top restaurants everywhere.  

Mark Thomas Double Bend Wine Glasses - to be found at Le George in Paris - beautiful to hold and drink from, uniquely designed and not overpriced.  So if you want to have something different on your table consider these.

Lehmann Jamesse Prestige wine glasses - try these out at 114 Le Faubourg in Paris then buy them here for your table.  These are much less expensive than I expected, I have to say, and I wouldn't hesitate to start a collection.

Then there is the beautiful 'dishwasher proof' (I wouldn't risk it, personally) stemware by Sophienwald - another Sommelier and wine lovers' favourite.  Beautiful, lightweight and oh so elegant.

How many different wine glass designers do you need?  It's like designer clothing to me, you can never have too many Little Black Dresses - all different, beautiful and to be pulled out when the mood takes you.

There are so many wine glasses to choose from.  I have changed from enjoying using Georgian glasses (large ones, I might add and no, I'm not that old) to traditional cut glass, to simple clear glasses whose main purpose in life is to enhance the wine I'm drinking.  I'm going to stick with those.  No coloured glass, no odd shapes, no cut glass.  Just a great bottle of wine and a beautiful glass.  Thanks....

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Where to Buy Wine in Paris - 5 of the Best Wine Stores for Everything from Mouton Rothschild to Rioja

When I started writing this post on the best wines stores in Paris I realised of course that my collection of favourites contains far more than five stores, so this is the first in a series of posts about Paris.  These are not in any particular order, but they are definitely five of the best and every time I visit Paris I return for another look, possibly but not probably coming away with a trophy bottle......

La Grand Epicerie de Paris at 24 Rue de Sèvres is a superb wine store - it's impossible to take everything in with a single visit.  This store is part of the Le Bon Marche department store (opened in 1852 and considered to be one of the oldest department stores in the world). Offering cheese, vegetables, groceries, meats, and beautiful chocolates (plus more) take the escalator down from this modern and cavernous food hall to find the beautifully designed Caves de Vins which offers over 3000 varieties of wines and spirits with everything from reasonably priced wines to the finest bottles in the rare wine room. . . . .

This is another of those food and wine stores you really need to visit several times, as there's so much to choose from, if you can get past the wonderful chocolates on the first floor (yes I did) take the lifts down to the wine hall and check out the Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Gevrey-Chambertin and Puligny-Montrachet and on to the Euros3000 bottle of Yamazaki Japanese single malt whisky.

Don't you just love a wine store that not only has a great selection but also so much atmosphere you can almost feel it. Here I was revisiting one of my favouite wine stores in Paris Legrand Filles et Fils which is almost certainly the oldest wine shop in Paris, situated at 1 Rue du Banque and originally started as a spice store in 1880.  Legrand isn't just about wine but everything that goes with it, from groceries, a small but beautiful wine bar, wine tastings and plenty of advice to go with.

With a small restaurant/wine bar (lunch only except Friday) and a marvellous selection of wines, this is a beautiful, traditional place to shop for your next case or bottle.....There's no question also that the staff couldn't be more charming, helpful, and knowledgeable and I will definitely be back next visit.

The Financial Times (2014) “The granddaddy of all Parisian wine retailers, Legrand Filles et Fils, near the Banque de France, opened a chic wine bar back in 2002 and this is still a great place to drink fine wine from all over the world by the glass with the cheese and charcuterie that have become de rigueur.”

La Cave du Chateau is not just another wine shop in Paris. At 31 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt you stroll into the beautifully restored Parisian home of Domaine Clarence Dillon, a family-run business who also own three famous Bordeaux wine houses: Château Haut-Brion, Château La Mission Haut-Brion and Château Quintus.

On the ground floor and in the basement cellar there's a carefully curated selection of gorgeous French wines - not just Haut Brion, plus a 2 Michelin star restaurant with Chef Christophe Pelé - The Clarence.

Walking through the elegant Parisian mansion-like facade you won't be expecting a typical wine shop, but I can't fault the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff - I have yet to try out the restaurant.... I'm working on that one 😊

If you're a wine lover no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to one of my absolute favourite wine stores in Paris, within Lafayette Maison - part of Galleries Lafayette but on the opposite side of the road from the main store - on the Boulevard Haussmann - Duclot la Cave covers a huge area on the top floor and there's little you can't find here.  Every time I go to Paris I go back and check out what’s new - their staff couldn't be more helpful and although it's huge it's beautifully designed and a treat to walk around. This is a view of the Chateau d'Yquem and fine wine room.  

They offer free delivery in Paris if you spend over 50 Euros which frankly it's hard not to do in this treasure trove of wines.

Duclot is a Bordeaux wine merchant with a stock of several million bottles, 2500 of which are offered here,1200 being Bordeaux.  Incidentally their holding company also owns Chateau Petrus - the most famous Pomerol of them all.

La Cave des Climats, at 35 rue de Verneuil Paris 7th which I unexpectedly stumbled on while walking in Paris a short while ago. This is an excellent French wine store, wine bar and place for wine tastings, and has the same ownership as Les Climats Michelin Star restaurant close by, where I had an excellent dinner a couple of years ago. If you're looking for great Burgundy and friendly and informative help - plus a snack or two - La Clave des Climats should definitely be on your list.

'In 2013, passionate about Burgundy wines, Carole and Denis launched the restaurant Les Climats at 41 rue de Lille Paris 7th, one of the only places in the world 100% dedicated to Burgundy wines. When in 2016, Denis stumbles upon a beautiful space that is free 100 m from the restaurant, he sees the opportunity to gather in an informal and relaxed atmosphere all the wines of Burgundy and elsewhere they like. Carole had always dreamed of a "very simple" place where one could drink good wines with friends accompanied by excellent sausages.The CAVE is exactly that!'

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Great Gifts for Wine Lovers

Most people I know enjoy a glass of wine.  Some like a glass now and then, some share a bottle every night, some know what they're talking about, some think they do and others are so sure they do they'll bore you to tears.

It doesn't change the fact that finding gifts for wine lovers is easy; finding gifts they'll actually enjoy and use is not so.  So you need to know who you're dealing with - from the afficionado to the simple wine enjoyer.

This is a selection of gifts - from Le Creuset's simple to use and beautifully made waiter's friend to Coravin's super sophisticated wine system that allows you to open the bottle without really opening it.

You really can't go wrong with the Le Creuset waiter's friend.  It looks nice and does the job it's intended for perfectly.  If you know someone who would prefer something that requires much less effort, consider giving them the Joseph Joseph winding handle corkscrew which is incredibly easy to use.

Finally there's Vinology's Deluxe Electric Corkscrew which comes with a built in foil cutter and is charged and ready to open the first 50 bottles.  Perfect for a party?  I would think so.

Of course there are thousands of corkscrews on the market, however these are three from classic to innovative, not over priced and all of which will open your bottles with ease.

 Most wine lovers have at least one decanter, probably several, so you need to be a bit careful when you add to their collection.  My favourite, although it's quite tricky to clean is Riedel's Amadeo Decanter - a talking point at any table and beautiful when you're using it and when you're not.

Then there's the simple Riedel decanter which is excellent for ''entry level' wine decanter collectors and drinkers.  Just a perfect every day option.  Closely followed by the attractive contemporary wide base wine decanter which comes with an oak stopper.

 When it comes to wine gadgets again there are plenty, but here are three you might like to consider.

Coravin's unique needle system lets you leave the cork in place and allows your bottle of wine to remain 'intact' for a long time.  So for those who want to have a special glass from the cellar - Petrus anyone? - without needing to drink the whole bottle this would be a very good, if pricey, gift.

Then there's the wine aerator, which I know for a fact works very well.  Le Creuset's wine aerator, pourer and stopper helps to open up the flavours in your bottle of wine as you pour.  Every wine lover should have at least one of these.

Finally a gift that I was given a couple of days ago and seriously like - there are many wine bottle foil cutters out there, but this one is well made, weighty and makes the task of removing the foil on the top of your wine bottle the work of a second.  Brilliant.

Last but not least there's Hugh Johnson's pocket wine book - indispensable to all wine lovers - an excellent stocking filler and a book that I buy every year.  Then there's the World Atlas of Wine - updated edition, written by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson and which every wine lover should own - just make sure they don't already before you splash out.

For any wine lover a subscription to Decanter makes a great gift.  Again make sure whoever you're thinking of giving it to isn't already signed up.  You have the option of giving the magazine or the digital edition or both and you can now sign up for six months or a year.  For anyone who likes reading up to date articles on wine and accessing Decanter's wine scores, this is an excellent choice.

For all my wine suggestions and travel notes come and follow me on Instagram at

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Three Places to Eat Out in Vienna - From a famous Coffee House to one of the World's Best Restaurants

Having just spent ten days in Vienna, mainly for music - and wine - and food I came away having heard the most marvellous performances, drunk some incredible wines I had never come across before, and eaten some great meals.  I have to say I like simple(ish) food, predominantly seafood, and so I found most Austrian cuisine was not quite up my street, particularly Wiener schnitzel and goulash, both of which I know that many adore.

Firstly No visit to Vienna is complete without a visit to the famous Vienna coffee house Schwarzenberg.

'The history of Viennese coffee house culture goes back to the year 1683, when Turkish spoils of war in the form of bags of green beans came into the possession of a spy and coffee became the favourite drink of the Viennese. Gradually, establishments under the name of Viennese coffee house were opened up and became a popular meeting place.'

At historic cafe Schwarzenberg you can go for just a coffee, for hot chocolate, for lunch and/or for dinner.  It is always full.  If you're clever you'll reserve one of the window tables.  If you're not you'll end up queuing outside.  Originally built in 1861 - read the full history here - Cafe Schwarzenberg is the best known of all of the coffee houses.  It's close to everything cultural from the Staatsoper to the Musikverein and also very close to all the famous hotels and the shopping district.  Pay a visit.  have a coffee and reserve your table to lunch the next day.

Restaurant Steirereck.  No 10 in the list of The World's top 50 Restaurants, holder of two Michelin Stars, you can expect to part with a lot of money here but come away happy.  The service, as you'd expect, is superb, the food out-of-this-world delicious and the wines outstanding.  Start with a glass of their in house Blanc de Blancs unless you want serious bubbles, then try a delicious Pichler Gruner Veltliner and go from there.  This is one of the best restaurants I've ever been to and well worth a visit.

Finally a restaurant that I visited once on this trip but if I went to Vienna again I would definitely go more than one time.  Restaurant Paul, at  Johannesgasse 16, 1010 Wien, is a restaurant I can definitely recommend.  The food is excellent as is the service and you can drink superb Austrian wines that won't break the bank.

Friday, 30 August 2019

3 of the Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara California from an Italian Feast to Paella Paradise

When you look up the restaurants in Santa Barbara you can pick and choose from any number of highly rated and expensive restaurants.  Look a little deeper to find those you might not have heard of and you'll be in for a feast.  Dining out in Santa Barbara is casual everywhere (at least where I went) so leave the heels behind.

Angel Oak

This restaurant is part of the Ritz Carlton Bacara hotel and is beautifully situated right on the ocean.  Well worth booking in advance after a long day's travel to Santa Barbara - choose a local wine (of which there are many, of course - see next post), some abalone pasta, and enjoy the view and the excellent service.  This is, by the way, the most expensive of the three I'm writing about today because after a long days travel, and just a few steps away from my room, it was paradise.....

Angel Oak Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Bacara
8301 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93117
805 571 4220
Book via Open Table.

Toma Italian Restaurant Santa Barbara

One of the most popular restaurants in Santa Barbara don't try to get in to Toma without a reservation.  Serving excellent Italian cuisine such as black spaghetti with shellfish (my favourite) polenta with Puttanesca sauce and on occasion tomato gazpacho with crab and avocado this is a must visit, highly rated, great food, excellent service, you really couldn't ask for much more.  Just book, as I say......

Toma Restaurant and Bar
324 West Cabrillo Blvd.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Book via Google/Open Table

Loquita Santa Barbara

Loquita is another of the most popular restaurants in town - don't come to this marvellous Spanish restaurant if you don't like to share - from the delicious tapas to the excellent paella everything is for sharing.  If you like your sprouts please try one of their tapas starters - Brusela which is brussel sprouts with peanut romesco, chorizo, honey dates and gremolata - it is out of this world.  The paella too is superb with the tenderest chicken and incredibly flavoursome rice, chorizo and gigante beans.

Loquita Restaurant - book ahead

202 State Street
Santa Barbara CA 93101
(805) 880 3380
Book via Google/Open Table

With most of the restaurants in Santa Barbara you can eat outside or inside so make sure you know which you prefer and ask in advance.  And as I've said, casual is the order of the day whether daytime dining or evening.

The temperature in Santa Barbara, being so near to the ocean, is usually warm but not boiling in daytime and can cool down quite rapidly in the evening so make sure you take a jacket or wrap with you.