Travel Tips

Suzy Gershman’s Postcard From San Francisco

Locations in this article:  Bangkok, Thailand Las Vegas, NV Paris, France San Francisco, CA Santa Barbara, CA Shanghai, China

Golden Gate BridgeDear Peter,

I am about to do a huge tour of Napa and California Wine Country for a new book, so I kicked off the research the way anyone would—in the city of San Francisco.

It was just a quickie visit, but the main purpose was to attend a re-corking workshop, something I had never even heard about before.


Bay bridgeWhile I was in San Francisco, the Bay Bridge was out of commish, so I took the ferry to, where else, the Ferry Building in time to catch some of the market day.

This time of the year, there’s plenty of pumpkins, tomatoes, pears, grapes, and harvest foods and the Ferry Building has scads of stalls inside and out, and a zillion place to eat something.

My regular haunt is Taylor’s Refresher—originally from St. Helena in the Napa Valley and home of the best garlic fries in the world. Then it was an easy connection over to Ghirardelli Square.

Check out Suzy’s Bay Area Baubles, a San Francisco Shopping Guide.


I do not collect wine and I don’t know a lot of fancy stuff about wine, so my visit to Cellar 360, a wine shop in Ghirardelli Square was quite an education.

Testing the winesPenfolds, the Australian winemaker, has a series of free clinics held around the world so that collectors can bring in their wines to be tasted, tested, certified and re-corked. The only requirements are that the wine be Penfolds and at least 15 years old.

It seems that many collectors are hanging onto older bottles not knowing whether the wine is good or not. Storage methods, travel across the seas or simply time can bring a wine past its “sweet spot.”

If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and served a bad wine, you know that it’s generally “corked” … meaning air seeped in from the cork and ruined the wine inside the bottle. By re-corking, the capsule and cork are removed, a scant 15 ml. of wine is removed then tested and tasted. If it’s up to par, it is certified by Penfolds and by Christie’s.

If the wine isn’t so hot, it gets a white dot and the owner is advised to drink it immediately—or, in extreme cases, dump it.

Don’t miss Suzy’s Roadtrip from San Antonio to San Francisco.

Assessing the WinesOnce the tasting is completed, a few drips of new wine are poured into the bottle and it goes into a vroom vroom machine that seals, re-corks and then pressure cooks the capsule seal. A sticker of certification goes on the bottle. Once a bottle has been re-corked, it can never be re-corked again because 15ml of new wine won’t affect the taste but further dilutions could do so.

Penfold’s has re-corked more than 95,000 bottles since they began this program in 1991 and has three international teams traveling the world. Since every single bottle of wine can be different, even from the same vintage, it’s not odd for someone to arrive with a dozen bottles in hand.

The re-corking is still free. Better yet, the winemaker will tell the owner when is the best time to drink that specific bottle or how many more years it can be held without damage.

Looking for restaurants? Don’t miss Three Days, Nine Meals: San Francisco.


From Ghirardelli Square, I jumped on the cable car for the Fairmont Hotel where I was invited to a wine tasting in the newly re-opened Presidential Suite.

Fairmont penthouse suiteAt 6,000 square feet, this baby wraps around the entire city with terraces and tile work that would make you weep with wonder. There’s a two-story library with domed ceiling and a pool room (billiards, not swimming) created in the style of the Alhambra with Moorish tiles on floor and walls. The first person to use the suite since it re-opened was Gina Gallo (yes, that Gallo) who was married there last week.

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Although the Fairmont is one of the most famous hotels in San Francisco, I then scooted over to my secret find hotel, a few blocks away.

Warwick Hotel The Warwick Hotel is an insider find, right on Geary Street and only two blocks from Union Square. It’s across the street from the A.C.T. Theatre (where we were going that night) and near many restaurants and attractions. The rates are also attractive … get this, rates begin at $99 per night!

The hotel is intimate, an architectural landmark from the early 20th century and possessed of enormous charm. Best still is the little-known seventh floor. You take the elevator to six and then walk up a half flight of stairs to a few rooms that are decorated in Edwardian splendor—complete with canopy beds and fireplaces.

After a good night’s sleep, we were into the traffic, off to the Golden Gate Bridge and on the way to Napa. I’ll be doing so many wineries in the Napa area that I’m going to have to do a Bottle Blog for you—stay tuned!

Uncorked Kisses,

By Suzy Gershman for Join Suzy on the road this spring on her “Born to Shop” trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from March 10-15, 2010, with an optional Bangkok extension. Guests will stay at the InterContinental Asiana and participate in “In the Know” shopping experiences filled with authentic local experiences and off-the-beaten path venues. For more information, contact Sarah at srlahey @