Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unique Food and Wine Trip Offerings

It seems that vacations have become the time to learn new skills, or polish up on your old ones. I’ve seen some great trip ideas come across my email recently. Here are a few of the most interesting ones that I wish I had time to check out myself…

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Francis Ford Coppola’s wines (and winery) in Sonoma, but that’s not the only venture the Oscar winning director has going. He’s also the proud owner of Coppola Resorts, which consists of luxury acommodations around the world. One of these properties is Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize and they are celebrating the year of the Maya calendar with fascinating opportunities.

The cave explorations include the Rio Frio Cave trip, a dry cavern with a sandy beach that is appropriate for all physical abilities; the Barton Creek Cave, which requires paddling a canoe through the cultural exploration of the cave; the Offering Cave, through a 20-minute jungle walk in Noj Kaaz Meen Elijio Panti National Park; Actun Tunichil Mcnal Cave, one of the main attractions in Belize for the more adventurous; and Caves Branch in Nohuch Ch’en Reserve, where you can experience cave tubing.

For information on the Belize resort and cave explorations, visit the website

I've been working on a trip to Tuscany in the near future and one of the things I am anxious to do is cooking classes. It turns out that’s not something I need to go so far for after all. The Harstone Inn in Maine is offering a week long cooking school led by Chef Benedetta Vitali. The chef comes all the way from the Tuscan region to share her cooking expertise and family recipes. There will also be a cheese making course and private winery tour.

The Tuscan Cooking School will take place June 4-8. The cost starts at $1250 (based on the cost of the room) for five nights accommodations; a welcome Maine lobster bake dinner on the beach; breakfast and lunch each day; and welcome gifts. Additional guests in the room are $525 each. For more information, go to hartstoneinn.com or call (800) 788-4823. 

Santa Barbara is one of the lesser known emerging California wine regions. I’ve spent some time in this beautiful Southern California city, but have yet to check out their wineries. The Hyatt Santa Barbara is making it easier to do check out the Central Coast wine country. This newly renovated hotel (located on the Pacific Ocean) is offering a Vineyard Picnic Tour Package.

In conjunction with Grapeline Tours, you can stay at the Hyatt and receive transportation and a guide to take you to four different wineries. You will also have a picnic lunch at one of the wineries, a Value Passport for discounts at wineries, full breakfast, late checkout and, of course, a bottle of wine.

The package starts at $389 per night is valid through November 14, 2012. You can book it online or by calling (805) 882-1234.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Upcoming Wine and Spirits Travel Events

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately and am getting ready to head to London in a few weeks with Beefeater and Plymouth. In the meantime, I’m hearing about special events going on in some of my favorite places in the near future and I’d like to pass them along for those who have schedules with a little more time than mine.

Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls-Logan, Ohio
I had a wonderful trip here and hope to return someday. In addition to the beautiful Hocking Hills local and fantastic food, they offer fun activities, such as the Italian Wines from Super Tuscans to Orviertos on April 27th. Or, a special Mother’s Day Brunch on May 13th. Also look for cooking classes and wine & beer festivals closer to the summer.

For more information or reservations, visit http://www.innatcedarfalls.com or call (800) 653-2557

Celebrity Cruises
The Celebrity Wine Cruise I took last May was just a wonderful experience. The cruise line has a few others that look to be exciting this spring. There is still some availability on the May 5th sailing, an 8-night Wine Cruise on the Celebrity Century that sails from San Diego with a similar itinerary to the one I was on. This one also will have a focus on food, featuring Celebrity’s Senior Traveling Executive Chef, W. Thomas Szymanski.

On May 27th, the Celebrity Summit will take off on a 6-night cruise to Bermuda during which Executive Chef Steve van der Merwe will have activities planned around culinary exploration that include Bermuda culinary traditions.

For more information or reservations, visit http://www.celebritycruises.com or call (800) 647-2251.

Pebble Beach Food & Wine
I have not yet made it to the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. The 5th annual event is coming up this weekend (April 12-15). Look for celebrity chefs, tasting seminars and one thing you won’t get at any of the other food festivals – golf tournaments on one of the world’s most beautiful courses overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  

For more information or tickets, visit http://www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com

American Fine Wine Competition
Next Thursday (April 19th)marks the gala event of the American Fine Wine Compeition. Chef Emeril Lagasse will  serve as host as over 600 competing wines are poured. The evening will include a silent auction and entertainment. The gala will benefit the Diabetes Research Institute and the Golden Bell Educaiton Foundation.

The event will be at the Boca Resort & Club. Tickets are $310 and are available on the AFW website.

Tennis Wine Camp
It’s no secret that I was a full time tennis writer before shifting most of my focus to travel, wine and spirits. I still have a lot of contacts in tennis and one invited me to participate in something this June that combines both of my niches.
The Walla Walla Tennis and Wine Camp combines on-court instruction with some of the best coaching around, including my pal Greg Patton who has coached everything from the Boise State’s men’s team to Andy Roddick. The rest of the afternoons and evenings are spent learning about and tasting wine. There are private tastings, wine pairing dinner and even barrel tastings.

Three sessions are taking place this summer: June 21-24; July 12-15; and July 19-22. I will be attending the first session and would love to see some wine lovers joining me. Go to the registration page for more information.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tasting Time

My friendly FedEx delivery man has been at my house again recently and he’s left some goodies. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been sampling lately…

Voga Italia Wine
First, let me say that I love these bottles. They have re-sealable caps, but no one is going to accuse these of cheapening the wine’s look.  I wish I had room to store these bottles and urge other winemakers to check them out because I am a believer in the screw cap and Voga Italia has proven that it can be done with class.

The Voga Italia Premium Sparkling, a bland of 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot grigio, was delicious. It was full of citrus and tropical fruit and would be easy drinking with any food. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Pinot Grigio. I do like light white wines, but felt that this one needed a bit more flavor. Voga also makes a rose, a merlot and blend, which I have not tried yet. All of the wines sell for under $20.

Angel’s Envy Bourbon
Angel’s Envy is the only Kentucky bourbon that is finished in barrels that have been used for port wine. The result is a bit more fruit flavor mixed in with the vanilla and oak you usually get with bourbon. The mash bill – 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malt – also allows for a slightly sweeter whiskey.

Since I’m not generally a big whiskey drinker, I brought in some “experts,” who agreed that Angel’s Envy was good stuff.

Bitter Truth Liqueurs
I enjoy tasting new (and especially unusual) liqueurs so I was excited about receiving Bitter Truth Liquers. They offer a selection, all of which are made to use for mixing or stand on their own:

Ice Mint-When I first saw this I was thinking Peppermint Schnapps, but it was nothing like that. It’s not thick or sticky, but it does have a strong mint flavor which holds its own on ice or with club soda.

Apple Pie-This does taste like your grandmother’s homemade apple pie, but with an alcohol kick. It’s fine by itself, but sounds even better pictured in an iced tea.

Grape-This one is lacking grown up taste and is a bit of a cross between grape bubblegum and cough syrup. It’s also tough to think of what to mix with this.

Apricot-This liqueur is a good mixer in sweet drinks. It has a very strong, almost jam-like flavor so it needs to be mixed with soda or into a cocktail.

Every once in a while I also receive products without alcohol! The new Kraft MilkBite bars fit into that category. When I first was asked to try them, my thought was “oh, another granola bar,” but this product is very different. It’s a milk and granola bar that’s available in chocolate, oatmeal raisin, mixed berry, peanut butter and strawberry.

I received the chocolate and strawberry. The good news is they were both very good, with more substance than regular granola bars. I would definitely recommend them, but since they contain milk, you need to refrigerate them so you won’t be leaving them in your pocketbook. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

St. Patrick’s Celebrations

What more could a reveler ask for? St. Patrick’s Day – the official day of partying – takes place on a weekend this year. I’m going to have to take it easy because I have a morning flight on the 18th to Phoenix, where I’ll be celebrating food and spa treatments for a week. In the meantime, I’ve been collecting some ideas of how everyone else may want to celebrate (and some drink recipes in case you’d like to just party at home).

If you are in Chicago, head to the Markethouse Restaurant and Bar tonight for Executive Chef Scott Walton’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, which will include corned beef with potatoes and green cocktails. The fun will continue on Saturday as Chef Wilton will offer small bite sandwich specials (fish po’boy, hot pastrami and corned beef) as well as Irish Drink specials.

CitySights NY is ready to take you to their top 10 locations to spend St. Patrick’s Day, which include McSorley’s Old Ale House, Manhattan’s oldest Irish pub; the Irish Arts Center; Fifth Avenue, site of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade; and, of course, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In Wisconsin, the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day during the entire month of March. Each Friday the resort will host an Irish Coffee Experience in the lobby bar at 4:30 pm. Guests can enjoy a $5 drink of freshly brewed coffee mixed with Jameson Irish Whiskey and topped with homemade whip cream.

If you are celebrating at home, her are some cocktail suggestion for you that sound deliciously right for the day of green.

Scarlet Petticoat
1 ½ parts Hendrick's Gin
¾ parts fresh Blood Orange juice
 ½ part Lillet Rouge
¼ part Creme de Cassis
1 slice of Cucumber

Muddle one slice cucumber.
Combine remaining ingredients.
Add ice and shake vigorously.
Double strain into cocktail glass and garnish with blood orange peel and cucumber slice.

The Irish Italian
1 part Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
1 part Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
1 part Earl Grey Tea
1 part simple syrup
¾ part fresh lemon juice
1 part dry, sparkling white wine

Combine ingredients in a large punch bowl with block ice.
Stir to chill and incorporate.
Garnish with lemon wheels.

El Verde
1 part Milagro Silver
1 part Fernet Branca Menta
1 part Green Chartreause
1 part Lime Juice

Shake all ingredients well with ice.
Strain into rock's glass with ice.
Garnish with a lime wheel.

Did you know? According to Irish legend, Leap Years (and Leap Day) have a curious history of being associated with the act of women proposing to men, guided by the Celtic legend of St. Patrick, when he struck a deal with St. Bridget to allow women to propose to men every four years.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The New York Palace Has a Heart

Valentines aren’t the only hearts being celebrated this month. February is American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women™ Month. It is a cause that is near and dear to my heart (pardon the pun) as my dad died of heart disease.

The New York Palace Hotel is stepping up to raise awareness and help out this killer of not only men, but more women than any other disease.  For the month of February, they are showcasing the AHA’s “red dress” symbol throughout the hotel.  The GILT Bar has The Red Ruffle cocktail including Chambord, champagne and pomegranate juice.  The hotel’s restaurant Istana will have a heart-healthy Brunch menu each weekend, with dishes such as Steel Cut Oatmeal with Berries and an Egg White Frittata.

To further offer its support to fighting heart disease, The New York Palace is offering a Have a Heart Package. It includes welcome drinks at the GILT Bar; accommodations; $100 per night food and beverage credit; and Commemorative Go Red For Women dress pin, as well as an additional keepsake. This weekend package starts at $359 and the hotel will make a donation to the American Heart Association in honor of each guest that takes the package. 

I will be at the hotel this month (and probably sampling The Red Ruffle). I hope you will too.

* * *
I’d also like to mention and event that taking place this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. I attended the Celebration of American Distilling two years ago and am hoping to make it this weekend. It’s a phenomenal chance to taste spirits from some of the smaller places you may not have even heard of. Some of my favorites, like North Shore Distillery, will be there. In addition to having a guaranteed great time, you will be helping out a good cause as all the profits will go to the Madison Area CSA Coalition. Visit the Distill America website for more details.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

International Valentine’s Day Specials

It’s only a week until Valentine’s Day. I’m enjoying some time at home catching up, but these romance packages are almost good enough to make me give that up…

Vancouver, Canada
I loved my all too brief visit to Vancouver after my Celebrity Wine Cruise. One of my favorite parts was my visit to the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa. Their Valentine’s Day package is worth a trip to British Columbia even if it wasn’t on your radar.

For around $500 per couple, you get one night’s accommodations; chocolate truffles; sparkling wine; a four-course dinner at their Bacchus Restaurant; and breakfast in bed.  Similar packages are available after Valentine’s Day if you can’t make it Tuesday – or you want to add on a few days. Book on their website.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
I am hoping to do my first trip to Cabo San Lucas later this spring and Capella Pedregal looks like another reason to go. This place could be romantic anytime (all suites include a private plunge pool), but they are going all out for the month of February with a Heart-to-Heart Package.

Guests this month who book this package will get an ocean view room for two nights; breakfast each morning; one dinner for two at their Don Manuel’s restaurant; two massages in the Auriga Spa; a rose petal turndown on evening; roundtrip transfers and a glass blown heart as a memento. You can book the package on their website.

Costalegre, Mexico
Although this destination was not on the original plan for my Mexico trip, I’m reconsidering after reading about this area along the Pacific Ocean. Las Alamandas is a romantic boutique hotel. If you hurry, you can get 25% off their Romance Package through February 16th.

The package includes welcome margaritas and a tropical fruit platter; a room for two for three nights; three meals a day; a candlelit dinner or gourmet picnic on a private beach; and sunset margaritas each evening.  For reservations, call 888-882-9616 or email sales@alamandas.com.

Rome, Italy
Rome is one of the most beautiful (and romantic) cities in the world and I look forward to returning. Celebrate Valentine’s Day at one of Bettoja Hotels, all conveniently located for sightseeing in this eternal city. Their special package includes accommodations; sparkling wine; a red rose; early check-in and late check-out, when available; dinner for two; buffet breakfast; and free access to a fitness center.

To find out pricing and availability at Bettoja Hotels in Rome, email reservations@bettojahotels.com or call 800-783-6904. Then throw some coins in the Trevi Fountain and wish for another great year!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Valentine’s Day Getaway Deals

It looks like I will be enjoying some time not traveling this February 14th, but for those of you who don't travel for a living and relish the idea of a “vacation,” I’ve got some good stuff for you. My inbox has been overflowing with so many Valentine’s getaways that I’ve decided to divide them into domestic and international.

Here’s a selection of ideas for those who want to celebrate their love within the United States…

Chicago, Illinois 
The J.W. Marriott really knows how to bring couples together for quality time. Their “Disconnect to Reconnect” package includes accommodations in a luxury suite; a two hour Couples Connection Experience at the hotel’s spa, VALEO; a Chef’s in-room dessert bites tasting, complete with champagne; and a late checkout of 2:00 pm. The package rate begins at $534 and is available any night from February 10-20 (based on availability) if you reserve at 312-660-8200 or online.

I love the Trump Chicago, and the Unforgettable Romance Package will put you in a deluxe room with a bottle of champagne, a five-course dinner at Sixteen, exotic truffles on your bed and a breakfast for two in the morning. You will also get a late checkout with this $675 per night package, available for all of February. There’s also a “Do Not Disturb” package if you are just looking to be left alone in your room (with Kama Sutra chocolate body paint). Check out additional specials in the restaurant and spa when you call 312-588-8000 or visit the Trump Chicago site.

"Be My Valentine" is the theme at Nacional 27, where there will be drinks, dinner and dancing. Sip on the four cocktails paired with the meal while you enjoy the unique Latin creations of Chef Chico Vilchez’s four course menu. It’s $49 for just dinner and $84 with the cocktails.

For the ultimate, never to be forgotten Valentine’s Day (this would be perfect for anyone who plans on “putting a ring on it”), Hotel 71 is offering the ultimate dinner – in their 39th Floor Penthouse Ballroom. Enjoy the quiet intimacy of a dinner prepared just for you by the chef (with wine or champagne, of course). You will have your own private server for the six course experience. The cost is $1,500 per couple and if you decide to get a hotel room there for the night, you will be sure to get an upgrade.

If you find yourself alone in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, you will want to head to Mercadito, where you can enjoy a five-course sharing menu of guacamoles, ceviches and botanos, followed by dessert. The cost is $55 per person and you can get more information by calling 312-329-9555 or going to their website.

New York, New York
What could be more romantic than the movie Casablanca? A Valentine’s stay at Casablanca Hotel in the heart of Times Square. Even without a special deal, this hotel provides a delicious morning breakfast spread and evening cocktail hour to all its guests, and I just love the d├ęcor.  Celebrate romance with the A Kiss is Just a Kiss package that will give you a bottle of Prosecco, a plate of strawberries and a Hershey’s Kisses gift upon arrival. Best of all, if you stay three days, you will get 10% off standard rates. Visit their website or call 212-869-1212 for reservations.

See the Big Apple in a new and very romantic way. Gray Line New York is offering a Valentine’s Day Night on the Town Tour to remember.  For $79 per person, you will get a fully guided tour of lower Manhattan in a heated motorcoach; a dinner at one of Little Italy’s oldest restaurants; a cruise on the NY Watertaxi with a champagne toast by the Statue of Liberty; a walking tour of the new Highline Park and a ticket to take in the view from the Top of the Rock Observatory. It all starts at 6:00 pm and you can get your tickets online.

Napa, California
I still remember the amazing breakfast spread at The Harvest Inn. Head to St. Helena for their Celebrate Love package that includes two nights in a King Vineyard room (complete with brick fireplace); a bottle of sparkling wine, a dozen roses and a six inch signature cake; rose petal turndown service; two spa treatments; and two signature bathrobes to take home. Rates begin at $570 and can be booked at their site or by calling 707 -963-9463.

Santa Monica, California
For those who want to give a nod to the environment as well as their loved one for Valentine’s Day, The Shore Hotel in Santa Monica is offering a “Pink Goes Green” package . For $469 per couple, you will receive overnight accommodations; two bicycle rentals; a bottle of organic wine or champagne; a 60 minute couples massage at Tikkun Spa; and a $50 credit at The Lobster Restaurant, located right on Santa Monica Pier. Visit their website or call 800-599-1515 to reserve.

Savannah, Georgia
The Zeigler House Inn is going all out for February 14th. For $375 per couple, you get one night at the inn with chocolate covered strawberries and champagne waiting for you; an evening reception followed by a vow renewal ceremony at the City Market (for which you will have a fresh rose bouquet); and a voucher toward dinner at Alligator Soul, one of Savannah’s premier restaurants. For details or reservations, visit their website or call 866-233-5307.

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