Category Archives: Luxury Travel

Travel: Montana to meet Merry Edwards

Merry Edwards Winery Toasts 20th Anniversary with a Celebration of Wine, Outdoor Adventure and Gourmet Cuisine.

Remember Missoula, Montana, the setting for that ’80s cult hit, “Twin Peaks” that I’ve since heard is making an updated series? Well, I’ll be heading to Missoula in about a month, and so will you if you decide to fly to Montana’s premier luxury ranch resort, The Resort at Paws Up.

view-12

All 37,000 acres of The Resort at Paws Up is located in Blackfoot Valley in western Montana, and is internationally acclaimed for year-round adventures and stellar culinary events, and for a weekend in March is where you can enjoy the perfect blend of wine, gourmet food, thrilling adventures …and more wine.

The Resort’s first-annual Wine Weekend, this year’s Eat, Drink and Meet Merry event (March 16–18), will allow guests the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the country’s leading vintners. This year’s headlining talent will be Merry Edwards herself.

Much like Paws Up’s successful established weekend events, such as Montana Master Grillers (May) and Montana Master Chefs (September), the weekend retreat will feature top-notch talent, outstanding gourmet menus by award-winning Executive Chef Ben Jones, specialized wine pairings, live entertainment and plenty of adrenaline-pumping adventure. After attending, guests will no doubt be able to impress even the most knowledgeable of their wine-loving friends with sommelier-like expertise.

As part of Paws Up’s inaugural Wine Weekend event, Resort guests are invited to wet their whistle during interactive seminars, educational tastings and wilderness excursions with Merry Edwards and her winemaking partner, Ken Coopersmith. The highlight of the weekend will be phenomenal dinners with expert pairings from Merry Edwards Winery, known for its exquisite Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.

One of California’s first woman winemakers, Merry Edwards became a household name in the industry soon after she started making award-winning wines in the early 1970s. In 2013, Edwards was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame, and she also won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States. Edwards was just the fourth woman to be so honored. The Eat, Drink and Meet Merry event corresponds with the 20th anniversary of the founding of Merry Edwards Winery in 1997.

Kick-starting Paws Up’s spring culinary events lineup, Eat, Drink and Meet Merry will be followed by WildFlavor (April 20–23, 2017), a four-day weekend event featuring exquisite menus and cream-of-the-crop culinary talents, including four Top Chef stars. Season 10 winner Chef Kristen Kish and Season 10 runner-up and current contestant Chef Brooke Williamson will be among the featured chefs.

For reservations or more information, call 877-588-6783. The Resort at Paws Up is also on Facebook and Twitter (@Paws_Up) and Instagram (@TheResortatPawsUp).

For more information on The Resort at Paws Up, visit www.pawsup.com or call 800-473-0601. For more information on Merry Edwards, visit www.merryedwards.com, or to schedule an in-depth tasting, contact 888-388-9050.

Fairy tale of a French wine

In Monte Carlo, rosé is the preferred thirst-quencher for wine enthusiasts. I experienced this in 2015, while sipping on a 2014 Château Les Valentines Rosé and dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Monaco, seaside at Elsa restaurant at Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.

My travel calexa-at-elsaompanion, Alexa (pictured), shared my joy in the life of a princess, sipping on elegant wines such as this Côtes de Provence rosé, with a cherry blossom aroma complemented by the drifting Mediterranean sea air mixed with the fresh floral breeze. Its notes gave way to a minerality typical of French wines, but this particular rosé was like pouring rose petals into a glass lined with drenched pebbles following a summer morning rain. Its color of pale pink/orange misled my palate into thinking this would be a fragile wine short on structure, but I was wrong. This rosé saturated my tongue with a tannin structure of royal character and elegance.

A year later, I found a 2015 bottle of Château Les Valentines Rosé online through a wine searcher app, and I ordered a few to re-introduce myself to this incredible rosé, a wine fit for a princess. Come summer, I will plan for a special dinner with friends to enjoy sips sure to send me back  in time to my time spent reveling in the good life of Monaco.

Digesting Dracula

Before me, a bevy of beautiful women dressed in second-skin skirts and crisp ironed blouses catch our group’s attention. But my eyes are drawn to those stiletto heels they magically maneuver, and to their perfectly made-up faces…. and those smoke-lined, piercing eyes. These are the eyes of lovely young women, but look deeper and you’ll see eyes that reflect the souls of a vicious past; in a moment’s notice these women could easily rip your carotid artery from your neck.

OK, so my imagination got the best of me in Romania, where all of my thoughts led to a vision of Dracula swooping in to drain the blood of unsuspecting souls.

The women, as it turned out, were gathering for Emirates airline hostess interviews; hence the outfits. We were all inside the historic Intercontinental Hotel where, during wartime, the restrooms were outfitted with secret audio devices for spying purposes. I had to assume these audio bugs were still in place. I didn’t speak until we left the building to browse through an artisan’s market of Transylvanian crafts.

The signature swirls of my cobalt blue Transylvanian ceramic bowl will forever remind me of Bucharest, the final destination we toured through on an AMAWaterways Black Sea voyage that began in Budapest and continued through Croatia, Bulgaria and Serbia, with a last stop in Bucharest. We didn’t make a stop in Transylvania, but neither did Bram Stoker, as it turns out.

While Darlene and I settled in our seats of our assigned tour bus, our imaginations, as well as our obnoxious nature, piqued with every Hungarian accented word spoken by our tour guide.

“Ask him to say it!” I pleaded.

Darlene and I egged each other on to request the tour guide recite, “I vant to suck your blood.”

Obnoxious, yes, but effective once we were overheard by the tour guide. And just like that, a truthful history lesson squelched our visions of Count Dracula, much like an eight-year-old child catching a parent stacking presents under a Christmas tree.

Vlad the Impaler, ruler during the 15th century Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, was also Prince of Wallachia and member of the House of Draculesti. He was known as the protector of the Romanians and Bulgarians north and south of the River Danube. As a fictional author, Stoker’s interest in Vlad the Impaler catapulted into an embellishment that will forever captivate audiences into a belief that vampires exist.

They do not.

Stoker didn’t actually visit Transylvania, or for that matter, Dracula’s castle. He did read his history on the subject, however, and with certain aspects transfused into fiction, Dracula came to life. And death.  And life. And so on.

The white face of Dracula was based on the fact that Vlad was a pale-toned man. The sucking of blood was fashioned after Vlad’s time spent imprisoned in a dungeon where he was tossed a live animal for dinner. The only way to kill it would be for him to use his teeth and severe the carotid artery, hence the image of Dracula sucking the blood from women’s necks.

The Hungarian Beef Goulash served onboard the AMAWaterways river cruise would have satiated Dracula’s hunger for iron-rich protein, with a splash of Schwaben Cabernet Sauvignon to wash it down.

***

Hungarian Beef Goulash

Courtesy AMAWaterways

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • ½ cup corn oil
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3 bay leaves

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet; add the onions and sauté lightly. Add the garlic and continue to sauté. Next add the meat, stir well with the other ingredients, and season with salt. Cover and let cook gently until meat browns. Add the sweet paprika, caraway seeds and bay leaves. Cover and cook on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until meat has picked up the flavor of the seasonings. Adjust heat so that the goulash simmers very gently and let it cook for approximately one hour, or until meat is fork tender. Serve over buttered noodles or rice.

Serves 6.

 

First sips of Belgrade

 

On an AMA Waterways River Cruise from Budapest to Bucharest, I find myself in Belgrade, Serbia, learning about plum brandy at the Quburich distillery. As we drive the bus to the quaint neighborhood location of a family-owned plum brandy tasting room, we pass by lawns covered in Syrians camping out while awaiting a bus to illegally cross from Hungary to France, Switzerland or Sweden. It is heartbreaking, and we are told that 5,000 people from Syria come to Belgrade daily.

The neighborhood’s pyramid-shaped roofs were fashioned from the Nazi bunkers of WWII in order to allow the bombs to slide off.

Yes, this is a destination of disarray, but there is much beauty among the ruins, such as the Avala Mountain to the south, and the rolling hills and fruit growing region of along the Balkan peninsula. The fruits include raspberries, blueberries, pears and apricots for exportation. The most popular fruit is the plum, which is the key ingredient to a brandy. Second only to this plum brandy is apricot brandy schnapps.

 

Before I sip on a series of brandy’s, some 30 years old, I enjoy a glass of elderberry juice.

#1 – We begin with a brandy-soaked cherry, which tastes refreshing as we begin our tasting education. We learn that fermentation begins with a 12% distillation. The secret is in the fire and wood is chopped and added to the fire every 7-11 minutes to keep the temperatures high.

The final product is bottled in hand-blown glass referred to as Chockanchi, so each is unique. The shape of the glass is said to enable you to drink from the bottle while rocking out on the dance floor. The amber color of the plum brandy is colored only by the fruit.

Geevoleel! (long live!) We toast and sip.

That first sip burns all the way down, but is easier with the following sip. We nosh on sausage, hams and cheeses, cheese pie… in what is referred to as a Greek mezza (a mess), with Turkish caviar of vegetables.

 

 

 

 

More than Goulash, Hungary has Boar’s Blood?

Although quite tasty, there is more to Hungary than Goulash. For one, there is a huge wine production, but this isn’t new. And neither is the communication of Hungarian wine, still referred to as boar’s blood, or at least blended wines. In the U.S. we typically hear the same blends referred to as “table wine”, “Meritage”, or “Bordeaux blend”.

Historically, wine has been the favored choice over water for hydration, so it’s no surprise that the 3,000 Celtic people who lived in Hungary made wine. Most of the Hungary-wine produced was white, at least before the mid-19th century. In fact, 1686 marked the time when the Turks left and Bosnia monks arrived. German-speaking settlers brought white grapes, but over time, the Serbs switched to red.

To put things in perspective on Hungarian wines and their prestige, know this…Queen Elizabeth drinks Cabernet Sauvignon from Villany. I found this out while on an AMA Waterways River Cruise from Budapest to Bucharest. Tasting in Villany, I had the great pleasure to taste foreign wines in a cave. The first chardonnay comes from a village outside of Villany. This white wine was a favorite of mine —un-oaked and made in stainless-steel tanks.

Wine tasting in Villany surprised me, with its 22 historical wine-producing regions. These fun facts satiated my curiosity almost as much as the wines tantalized my palate. For instance, in the northern region of Hungary, the Tokaj wines are made from white grapes discovered by the French King… from a 15-million-year-old leaf!

Yes, the history of wine production is long in Hungary.

I hadn’t known that the second best known wines hail from nearby Belgrade, Serbia, and that in the 19th century, the Phylloxera outbreak left the majority of vineyards dead. From the point of re-planting, red grapes began to grow in this area…Oporto to be exact, which is the Portuguese wine in Villany.

When the Turks tried to seize Hungary for 25 days, the Hungarians thought they were gonners – they could live or die. So, on their last day, they were happy when their women brought good red wine from the cellars, from barrels to buckets.

The Turks saw the wine trickling down on the Hungarian beards and white shirts. These Hungarians drank too much, and as a result, felt strong — strong enough to fight. The Turks thought they drank boar’s blood and they ran away.

Moral of this story: drink wine in fight or flight.

While tasting, I discovered the 2014 rose would have tasted best mixed with soda water. With an aroma of strawberries and its coppery rose color, this wine seemed to have gone into secondary fermentation – a bit fizzy. It’s blend of 3 sources, including blue cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon did not impress.

Finally I tasted the first of four reds, a ruby color that made me feel regal. It had a faint aroma of currants, a very good tannin structure and medium finish. It proved a medium to light bodied wine, “real blood of Villany Hills” —  an Oporto from 2013.

The second red – again a ruby color – offered a deeper berry aroma and still light, definitely a pinot noir. It was an enjoyable medium bodied wine, a 2011 blue francish with 14% alcohol, originally from Austrian region – Nazi days – when payment was made with blue francs.

Our third wine had the same ruby color – with high alcohol and low acidity – so its shelf-life is less. I got the aroma of a band-aid and obviously disliked this 2011 blend of 40% Oporto, 40% blue francish – seed of sour cherry – and 20% cabernet sauvignon.

Here’s toasting to Attila the Hun and history.

Channel your inner queen at The Palace

Life in Northern California offers endless opportunities for day trips and weekend visits to explore small coastal towns or big cities like San Francisco.

So, I spent a night in San Francisco following a short visit to a friend’s house in Sacramento. The first thing I did was relax with a glass of Magnolia Grove 2013 California Cabernet Sauvignon.

magnolia
Magnolia Grove 2013 California Sauvignon, priced at just under $10 a bottle.

This wine is an average, well-priced garnet-toned Cabernet made from grapes of Sonoma County. I wouldn’t complain about it – it was tasty! — but there really wasn’t anything complex about it.

For my palate, this is a drink-alone, medium bodied, great all-around table wine.  The Magnolia Grove of Chateau St. Jean would be the perfect spot to sip this berry and cherry-flavored wine.

Although I was not in Sonoma when I drank it, I was enjoying my first experience exploring San Francisco. This bottle of Magnolia Grove was left as a gift during my stay at the Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel. This was the start of channeling my inner queen.

Cowgirl CreameryA round of Cowgirl Creamery cheese was left with an assortment of crackers. Yes…

My room at the Palace Hotel, which, by the way, was originally built in 1875, was so inviting, especially after a long evening enjoying the company of good friends and perhaps too much wine the previous night. I would have been perfectly happy to crawl under the crisp, clean sheets and watch the big screen TV and sip wine paired with Cowgirl cheese and crackers. But…I was in San Francisco for only one evening, so the plan was to explore the dining scene. I had already spent the afternoon in Fisherman’s Wharf, which was amazing if only to watch the seals compete for space to sun on the dock. I wasn’t hungry, but if I were, it would have been a great place to select any number of culinary delights — from seafood to burgers and chowder, and lest not forget See’s Candies or Ghirardelli Square, the latter a stone’s throw from the area.

I can now say that I rode the cable car in San Francisco, and I live to tell the tale. I had no idea it would be so thrilling, and quite similar to a roller coaster in that you creep uphill in a struggle; fortunately you do not coast downhill, but it is a steep slope and the struggle of the car to keep a slow speed conjured up thoughts of broken cables and a runaway car from movies and televisions shows I’ve seen. Now that I’ve done it, I don’t need to do it again.

My day was full, I was tired, and when I stepped into the Palace Hotel, I wanted to remain there for a few days…at least. Why wouldn’t I? The lobby entrance was palatial, keeping in line with the theme of ornate interior design. Inside my modest, but very comfortable room, a toilet with options! A warm spritz later, I was out on the town — to Telegraph Hill to enjoy an Italian dinner at Original Joe’s in North Beach, with the Rat Pack overhead. Before I knew it, my virtual crown was left behind and I was on the rode again. San Francisco, I’ll be back soon!

RatPack
At Original Joe’s.