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Drinking Around the New SFO Centurion Lounge

The new SFO Centurion Lounge got our attention.  It specializes in Napa-based wines and rumor has it that we might like wine on this blog.  Our dear friend, Michael, was checking out the lounge when it opened. He wrote a review of the lounge overall and you can find that on Mommy Point’s blog.  But we asked him if he could do us a favor and sample the libations.  For some reason, he was okay with that.

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Some of the things I love about the American Express Centurion Lounges are their signature cocktails and “local feel,” that make the lounges unique to a particular airport and region.  When the new Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International (SFO) opened on November 6 in Terminal 3 (the United Airlines terminal), I happily volunteered to be a guinea pig visit the lounge so that I could sample some of the libations and report back to the Heels First Travel crew.  It was a sacrifice, but someone needed to do it.

 

The entrance to the new Centurion Lounge at SFO
The entrance to the new Centurion Lounge at SFO

 

Pro tip spoiler alert:  If you love tasting excellent white and red wines, and if you also happen to have an affinity for mixed drinks, allow yourself at least two hours to sample and then recover from your “tasting,” less you pass out lose track of time and miss your upcoming flight (if departing SFO), or you have to drive from the airport (if arriving SFO) – the best bet in the latter case is to catch an Uber or taxi!
 

It’s easier to climb these stairs before visiting the lounge than it is to go down the stairs after visiting the lounge ;)

 It’s easier to climb these stairs before visiting the lounge than it is to go down the stairs after visiting the lounge 😉

SFO being relatively close to the Napa and Sonoma wine producing regions, it’s logical that the Centurion Lounge would choose to feature a rotating mix of wines at this location.  I don’t know exactly how often the wines available for sampling will be switched, but it’s not hard to imagine that different varietals will be available as the seasons and outdoor temperatures change.

 

The wine wall
The wine wall

 

I *NEED* to have one of these displays in my house
I *NEED* to have one of these displays in my house

 

Even boutique wine producers like Caymus are featured
Even boutique wine producers like Caymus are featured

 

’Terra Valentine’ and ‘Peju,’ some of my personal favorites that may not be as familiar to folks from outside of the region.
’Terra Valentine’ and ‘Peju,’ some of my personal favorites that may not be as familiar to folks from outside of the region.

 

’Silverado,’ another small producer from Napa Valley
’Silverado,’ another small producer from Napa Valley

 
The quality, caliber, and quantity of the adult beverages at this lounge is staggering – so much so, that if one plans on reasonably sampling a true variety of the different flavors and aromas, that it requires a strategy to be “successful.”  In my case, knowing that the subtle notes in a wine can be missed if my taste buds are overwhelmed by hard alcohol in the mixed drink concoctions, I decided that the most “logical” order for my “flight tasting” (pun intended) would be to go from sparkling to white to red…and if still standing after that, then proceed to the cocktails.

 

Starting off with the bubbly.
Starting off with the bubbly.

 
The way the wine tastings work is that you ask the bartender for a barcode receipt which will allow you to sample five (5) one-ounce tastings of your choice.  Technically, I believe that the rule will be that you can only get one (1) barcode per lounge visit, but given that I visited on opening day, they were a little more loose with the rules than they normally might be 😉

 

The cocktail bar at the SFO Centurion Lounge
The cocktail bar at the SFO Centurion Lounge

 

The magical barcode receipt that will enable you to sample wines.
The magical barcode receipt that will enable you to sample wines.

 
There are about 15 to 20 wines available for tasting, so realistically, it will not be possible to try all of them in one sitting (not that you would necessarily want to do that anyway…).  You can review the tasting notes before making your selections, or if you want to throw caution to the wind, just pick at random.  Generally speaking, you want to try whites then reds, moving from lighter-tasting wines then progressing to more full-bodied wines; but don’t let so-called “tasting etiquette” get in the way of your tasting what you want, in whatever order you want.

 

The white and rose tasting notes
The white and rose tasting notes

 

The red tasting notes.
The red tasting notes.

 
To begin your sampling, take your receipt from the bar, turn around and head toward the wine wall.  You are given one glass, but if you prefer to have individual glasses for each wine, you can get additional clean glasses by the wine wall.  In the glass-enclosed refrigerated cases, you will see the wines that are available.

 

Wines on display for sampling”
Wines on display for sampling”

 

Even more wines on display
Even more wines on display

 
Below the refrigerated cases, you will see what looks like a “coin return slot” on a vending machine.  Take your barcode receipt and place it face up into the slot so that the barcode reader can scan it.

 

The barcode scanner is to the lower right
The barcode scanner is to the lower right

 

Sadly, you don’t get to open the wine fridge and take a bottle with you :(
Sadly, you don’t get to open the wine fridge and take a bottle with you 🙁

 

Insert your barcode receipt face up.
Insert your barcode receipt face up.

 
After you scan your receipt, you will then be able to make your selection.  NOTE:  There are three different barcode readers, each under one of three refrigerated cases; each reader corresponds to the specific wines in the refrigerated case above it.  The barcode receipt can be used in any reader in any order (so just because you choose to taste wines from “refrigerated case #1,” that doesn’t mean that all of your subsequent tastings must be from the wines in case #1.)

 

Hold your glass under the spigot and push a button.  Each wine selection seems to have three buttons, and it didn’t seem to make a difference which button was pushed
Hold your glass under the spigot and push a button.  Each wine selection seems to have three buttons, and it didn’t seem to make a difference which button was pushed

 
Another note:  After scanning your barcode, if you do not make your wine selection quickly enough, you “time out” and will need to scan your barcode again.  Don’t worry if you time out; you will NOT lose a tasting.  Just re-scan the barcode – the system is smart enough to keep the actual count of tastings poured.

 

Ready for my tasting
Ready for my tasting

 
Assuming that after the bubbly and wine flights, that you are still standing upright game for trying the cocktails, there is quite the selection from which to choose at the bar.

 

The unique cocktails available at the SFO Centurion Lounge
The unique cocktails available at the SFO Centurion Lounge

 
I didn’t have a strong preference as to the cocktails, so I thought I would start from the top at the “Pineapple Express” and make my way down the list – don’t laugh, others were doing the exact same thing on opening day (though no one, myself included, dared to finish the drinks in their entirety!)

 
I don’t know if it was because the cocktail menu was new, because this was opening day, or because I had already had my champagne and my 5-10 one-ounce wine tastes, but by the time the bartender had finished making the Pineapple Express and I had taken my first sip, the drink was either REALLY strong (a good possibility) OR my head was starting to get woozy (also a good possibility).

 

Making the Pineapple Express
Making the Pineapple Express

 

Add one part vodka, maybe add two parts vodka, do I hear three parts?
Add one part vodka, maybe add two parts vodka, do I hear three parts?

 

Strong enough to power a rocket…
Strong enough to power a rocket…

Given that I had now been in the lounge for close to three hours, and given that the room was starting to spin just a tad, I decided to pass on the rest of the cocktails and just try them on subsequent visits.

Needless to say, I was impressed at the offerings available in the SFO Centurion Lounge.  For those who are frequent (or even infrequent) United Airlines fliers passing through SFO, this lounge is a welcome and refreshing addition, and a much more viable alternative than the offerings in the native United Clubs in the terminal.  Well worth the effort to get to the airport a few hours before your outbound flight (or delaying your leaving the airport if coming off of an inbound flight)!

Have you had a chance to visit the SFO Centurion Lounge yet? Did you try any wines or different cocktails? What were your thoughts?

 

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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2 comments

  1. I like your style. From bubbles to bordeaux is how we usually start our “tastings”.

    Haven’t been yet but looking forward to paying a little visit in the near future. How were the munchies?

    • I actually didn’t find the food spectacular. It’s not that it wasn’t tasty – I did like the pork shoulder, for example. And of course, the food is better than what you’ll get at any US airlines’ domestic lounges. I guess compared to the brisket at the DFW Centurion Lounge – a favorite of mine – the food at the SFO lounge didn’t blow me away. The wine tastings, however, absolutely make this lounge a winner!

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