Since GLR launched in 2010, we have pledged to dedicate a certain amount of our coverage to the eco-friendly lifestyle niche—from hotels, to restaurants, to products you can buy on Amazon. In particular, we love to cover businesses in the hospitality arena whose products and services are enhanced—not compromised—by their environmental stewardship. In fine dining, for example, the attenion to sustainability by sourcing produce, meats and other ingredients from local farmers and fine food purveyers, actually leads to fresher, tastier and more wholesome dishes. When these restaurants and chefs are already among the best in the world, the results are both delicious and good for the planet.
It is no wonder then that the world’s best known independent restaurant guide, The Micheline Guide, has launched a new “Green Star” award to highlight restaurants at the forefront of the industry when it comes to their sustainable practices. According to The Michelin Guide a Michelin Green Star is awarded (annually) to restaurants that “offer dining experiences that combine culinary excellence with outstanding eco-friendly commitments and are a source of inspiration both for keen foodies and the hospitality industry as a whole.”
What Kind of Things Do Michelin Green Star Restaurants Do?
According to Michelin, all Green Star recipients are different in unique ways but they all make a quantifiable difference and act as role models.
This includes, working directly with growers, farmers, fishermen and foragers; including those that use “regenerative methods such as no-dig vegetable gardens and successional cover crop growing.”
Many of these suppliers go beyond environmental considerations to also address “issues related to ethics and wellbeing, as well as contributing to local, national or global charitable and educational projects.”
Does the Michelin Guide Have Any Specific Criteria?
In terms of specific criteria, Michelin does not give a lot of information on what the inspectors are looking for, noting, “there is no specific formula for awarding a Michelin Green Star, as every restaurant and its surrounding region has a unique set of conditions.”
While the guide does give some insight into common “green” practices that these restaurants follow to produce delicious food with a small carbon footprint there is also the issue of the restaurant itself and its carbon footprint. The guide is somewhat vague on these practices.
Having covered this area quite a bit over the past 12 years, however, we can make an educated guess as to what sort of sustainability practices these restaurants incorporate.
Examples might include: Menus printed on recycled paper; tables made from reclaimed wood; reusing and recycling flatware; composting vegetable waste; incorporating solar power; reusing LED, halogen or fluorescent bulbs (or using low energy light bulbs); reducing water usage with low flow spray valves; rain water reclamation systems.
Who Are the Leaders in Green Fine Dining?
To date The Michelin Guide has awared 359 restaurants around the world with Green Stars. So which countries are leading the green, fine dining movement? Not surprisingly, France has the most green stars with 87, followed by Germany with 67, Italy with 30, UK and Spain with 27 each and Japan with 23. Perhaps a bit surprising, the US—despite having 1366 restaurants with at least 1 Michelin star—has only 11 Green Stars, leaving us with plenty of room for improvement in the green, fine dining space.
Here Are The 11 US Recipients of a Michelin Green Star
Cinco de Mayo—the Mexican holiday to commemorate their victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862—and the Kentucky Derby—the most famous horse race of the year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY—are always in the same week. In case you are not aware, Cinco de Mayo is always on May 5th, while the Kentucky Derby is always on the first Saturday of May. Continue reading →
While relaxing vacations certainly have their virtues—think pina coladas on a white sand beach, or a deep tissue massage at a desert spa—many people prefer a daily dose of action and adventure on their vacations. No, I’m not talking about golf, or tennis or long walks on the beach. I’m talking about real activities and adventure—perhaps even a little danger.
Move over, New York. Step aside, Chicago. Not you, Los Angeles. In the opinion of Travel + Leisure magazine, the top city in America for 6 years running does not have a major sports team, a thriving economy, or even a handful of famous people that call it home. But somehow, Charleston, SC, the city of approximately 135,000 people on the Atlantic coast of South Carolina has earned the top spot in the U.S. for the 6th year in a row and 8th year in row respectively by popular travel magazines Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. It was also named the #1 city in the WORLD back in 2016 by Travel+Leisure. So what makes this famous Civil War port town so great? I recently took a trip to Charleston to see what all the hype was about.
Founded in 1670 as Charles Town, in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston is known for its rich history (the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumptner), well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people. It is also a popular tourist destination, receiving a large number of accolades over the past decade. In addition to “Best City in the US” it was also named “America’s Most Friendly City” by both Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler and “Most Polite and Hospitable City in America” by Southern Living.
The southern charm, mysterious history, and world-class dining generally top the list of those who boast about this city. But like any trendy locale that receives critical acclaim from travel magazines and lifestyle aficionados, you need to spend a few days there—minimum—before deciding for yourself. And there really is no better time to do it than mid to late fall, when those balmy southern temperatures are beckoning to northerners bidding adieu to their Indian summer. With that said, here are a few recommendations from my own jaunt of where to stay and dine, visit and unwind in Charleston.
Belmond Charleston Place exudes southern charm. From the bronze fountain out front to the lobby with its Georgian open-arm staircase, Italian marble floors and glistening chandelier, the hotel is glitzy yet elegant with authentic southern class. If location matters, and it usually should when visiting a city for the first time, then Belmond won’t disappoint. It is in the middle of everything you want to see, including shops, restaurants, bars and cultural sites. Belmond is also home to Charleston Grill—considered one of the best restaurants in Charleston—as well as The Thoroughbred Club, a uniquely small and classy sports bar that is both unexpected and much appreciated (bless its heart).
Vendue, which T+L ranks the #1 hotel in Charleston and #9 in the country, was renovated and “reborn” in 2014 to create Charleston’s first and only hotel dedicated to the arts. In addition to a rotating art exhibition, daily art tours with a specially appointed Art Docent, and a working art studio, the hotel is equipped with over 300 pieces of original art for guests to enjoy. Even the stylish boutique guestrooms accent antique furnishings with bright bursts of contemporary art.
Continue your aesthetic experience at The Drawing Room, Vendue’s popular upscale eatery. Executive Chef Forrest Parker employs his own inspired vision to create seasonal and locally-sourced dishes that are as eye catching as they are delicious. And if you’re flying down from the Northeast, you can even extend your al fresco season just a tad longer at/on The Rooftop, where the views alone will make your trip worthwhile. Oh, and Vendue’s pièce de résistance? Milk and cookies are out for the taking each and every evening. Yes ma’am.
The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor & Marina is the new kid on the block. Across the harbor in Mt. Pleasant, The Beach Club opened its doors in 2016 and has received rave reviews, both from the travel press and quasi travel press (i.e. Trip Advisor). Pairing good ole hospitality and luxury amenities, The Beach Club is part of the Leading Hotels of the World collection and is located just over the bridge and minutes away from Charleston’s historic district. Each guestroom features elegant décor and stunning views of Charleston’s waterfront. While relaxing in your room and enjoying the view might be your first order of business (it was for me), there is no shortage of options at the Beach Club to keep you busy.
From the 30,000-square-foot Tropical Pool and Deck, to the Tranquility Pool with Whirlpool, to Private Poolside Cabanas, the pool scene is on par with even the grandest big city hotspots. Those not in the mood for lounging can indulge in a bit of seaside competition on the private bocce court or some lighthearted fun on a life-sized chessboard. Once you’re ready to explore, be sure to take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary trolley service and bikes to see the city. Alternatively, the Water Taxi, while a small fee, is the best ride into downtown Charleston. At night, head back to the hotel to enjoy a sumptuous seafood dinner at the Fish House, one of Charleston Living Magazine’s “Top 25 Restaurants in Charleston.”
Thanks in part to its sheer size, The Beach Club is also able to offer custom experiences that few hotels in Charleston can match. Its staff has teamed up with Suzanne Pollak, Dean of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, to offer guests an insider’s view of America’s favorite city. Through cooking classes, hosting how to’s, wedding planning, cocktail party etiquette and even an exclusive intimate hands-on southern entertaining lesson, Pollak will teach y’all the true meaning of southern hospitality.
Charleston Hotels: Belmond Charleston Place ($325-$750) Vendue ($179-$419) The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor & Marina ($167-$567)
At FIG you’ll find elevated takes on Southern classics with seasonal ingredients served in an upscale-bistro setting. The restaurant prioritizes (if not exclusively uses) only locally grown & harvested goods to prepare an array of innovative menu items. Indulge in their smaller yet decadent plates, like sautéed mushrooms, fish tartar with whipped avocado, or their famous chicken liver pâté, or go big (but don’t go home just yet) with the ricotta gnocchi topped with lamb Bolognese or Suckling Pig. The options abound and the “Food Is Good” at FIG.
It’s not often you see a restaurant whose two locations are in Charleston and Nantucket but that’s the case at 167 Raw. And if you’re dealing with super fresh seafood it’s understandable why they chose these two locations. Take a seat on one of the bar stools for a feast of Atlantic coast seafood, from fresh oysters to yellowfin tuna tacos to voluminous lobster rolls, dense with claw meat and light on mayo—bringing some Nantucket magic to the Lowcountry. Of course scoring a seat at this tiny, subway-tiled bar is half the battle, so don’t go at peak hours and expect a short wait. Reservations are unfortunately not an option, so employ some nice southern manners and be patient.
When you walk in and are immediately welcomed by none other than the owner and proprietor, Ken Hall, you know there is something a little different—in a good way— about Halls Chophouse. This family steakhouse restaurant located in the Upper King District of Charleston has quite a following. Great hospitality, great American cuisine and a dining experience that is second to none in Charleston make Halls a true must visit if you’re willing to splurge a bit. Favorites? The New York strip steak was as good as any I have had in NYC, while the ribeye was out of this world, with all the flavor you expect yet a perfect texture and almost filet-like meatiness.
For more casual eats and drinks…
Red’s Ice House and Fleet Landing have you covered. Red’s, across the harbor in Mt. Pleasant, is perfect if you’re looking for a friendly spot to enjoy a cold beer & fresh local seafood in a laid back setting. Located on historic Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, the original Red’s is the perfect spot for taking in Lowcountry wildlife and scenic Charleston sunsets. The food is not the draw here—rather cold beers and people watching is—but step out onto the deck overlooking Shem Creek and you’ll understand why it’s such a popular spot. Fleet Landing, is also all about the scenery, but the food sure isn’t shabby either (try the crabcakes). Offering unobstructed views of the harbor from a 1940s retired naval building, Fleet combines a commitment to quality food and sustainable practices with a delightful nod to the area’s maritime heritage.
Charleston Restaurants: Red’s Ice House ($$) Fleet Landing ($$) FIG ($$$) Raw 167 ($$$) Hall’s Chop House ($$$$)
Oaring and Touring
One of the best ways to relax and explore the Lowcountry is from the seat of a kayak. Paddling through the calm saltwater creeks nestled behind the aforementioned Folly Beach, you will discover the natural wonders and wildlife that call this area home. You can also get up close and personal with wading birds, oyster beds, barrier islands, wild dolphins and more.
Coastal Expeditions, whose slogan is, “You Haven’t Seen Charleston, Till You’ve Seen It From The Water” (some truth there) is one of the top outfitters in the area. Their three hour outings are the most popular, taking you into the saltwater estuaries to see dolphins, pelicans, ospreys and maybe even a sea turtle or manatee.
For a more practical jaunt around the city, there is always just good ole walking. And if you like history—and Charleston has plenty of it—there is no better way to get around the city than on foot. After all, downtown Charleston—also known as “the peninsula”—is only about 4 to 5 square miles. But in this area you can find at least 100 buildings from before 1776 and 1,000 from before 1861—state buildings, churches, mansions, and townhouses—almost all of which come with historic plaques explaining exactly what their function was roughly 200 years ago.
While the resources on your iPhone should be enough to steer you in the right direction, there is nothing wrong with leaving your walkabout to the professionals. Charleston Strolls—recommended by both the NY Times and Southern Living—will take you on a historic walking tour of Charleston (where carriages and motorcoaches are not allowed) that highlights both Charleston’s rich history and colorful past.
You can’t enjoy the complete Charleston experience if you don’t pay a visit to one of its beautiful beaches while in town. While there are 3 public beaches within a few minutes drive from downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is by far the most revered. Though the water will be a bit cool for swimming by November (though peak temps are actually reached in September), the beaches in Charleston are some of the prettiest in the country and there is never a bad time to visit. Water lovers can also enjoy kayaking, paddle-boarding, boating and fishing, while thrill seekers will enjoy the 72 suspended obstacles at Wild Blue Ropes Adventure Park.
Perhaps known a little more for its golf courses, Kiawah Island is also a beach haven—rated the second “Most Romantic Beach in America” by National Geographic Traveler. Kiawah Island is unique among the barrier islands because—unlike Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach—commercial development is virtually non-existent here. This island was meticulously planned to be environmentally sound and very relaxing. A semi-tropical climate hosts alligators (often seen basking in the sun on the banks of Kiawah’s many lagoons), sea turtles, bobcats and some very friendly dolphins. Along with over 40 miles of bike trails, there are five world-class golf courses, several tennis courts, and 10 miles of the most beautiful beach on the Atlantic coast. Kiawah is a gated community with restricted public access, but absolutely a site to look into if you’re making the trip.
Kiawah’s beaches are world-renowned and so are its golf courses. Named the #1 golf resort in the world by Travel + Leisure, Kiawah Island Resort is home to nine elite courses. Among the nine is the Ocean Course—home to the 1991 Ryder Cup matches (known as the “War by the Shore”), the 2012 PGA Championship (won by Rory McElroy) and will be host to the 2021 PGA Championship.
Where should I stay on Kiawah you ask? Because so many people have second homes on Kiawah that lay vacant much of the year, there are plenty of options to choose from on Airbnb at very reasonable prices—especially considering what you get. If you really want to splurge though, you can’t go wrong with the world renowned The Sanctuary. The exquisitely designed oceanfront hotel, just 21 miles from downtown Charleston, captures the spirit, history and charm of the beautiful south while still offering 255 spacious rooms and suites. Their king rooms are among the largest on the East Coast with the smallest measuring 520 square feet.
Maybe it’s the way the historic homes are grandly decorated for Christmas, or the unique view of Palmetto trees adorned in twinkling holiday lights. Pick your own reasons, but it’s hard to deny that Charleston is a near perfect blend of intimate historical ambiance and the luxuries and activities of a metropolitan city.
Some seasonal favorites among locals and visitors include The Nutcracker, performed by the Charleston Ballet, the Holiday Walking Tour—a must for out-of-towners looking to see the city—and the Annual Progressive Dinner at Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion, one of the city’s grandest venues. Also held at Circa 1886, in it’s 15th year, is the Dickens Dinner. A night at Circa 1886 is always an indulgence, but on the night of the Dickens Dinner (Thursday, December 8th) guests will enjoy a live retelling of the classic Charles Dickens’ Christmas Story along with their meal. The annual dinner—while notably festive—is just as much about the food, with a lavish four-course holiday menu influenced by the tale itself.
Well, what are you waiting for? Temperatures are dropping, wanderlust is rising and Charleston is ready and waiting to charm you.
I would not be surprised if most Rivian owners name the gear tunnel as their favorite feature. It’s simple yet brilliant utility. Exactly like it sounds, the gear tunnel is an 11.6 cubic foot storage area that runs right through the middle of the truck, between the cab and bed, accessible through small doors on both sides of the truck’s exterior. You can also access the Gear Tunnel through an opening between the rear seats.
The uses for the gear tunnel are endless. As the name suggests, it is obviously great for storing gear—fishing rods, skis, golf clubs, camping gear…whatever your jam is. The tunnel’s doors also double as seats or as a foot stool to reach the truck’s roof. And since the engineers at Rivian don’t like any wasted space, the doors also have small cubbies for additional storage. But Rivian did not stop there. Realizing that this space has so many applications, they thoughtfully outfitted a few custom products—designed specifically for this space—that slide in and out of tunnel. The coolest one by far is the…
Portable “Camp Kitchen”
While an expensive option, there is no denying how cool this custom feature is. The camp kitchen includes a countertop, a two-burner electric stove, a 4-gallon water tank for the sink, and a 30-piece dish-ware set that includes plates, utensils, carving knifes, and more. All of this folds up like a transformer into a unit that slides into the gear tunnel like a glove so you’ll never hear it bouncing around. Of course, if you are not planning on camping anytime soon, then simply take it out and leave it in your garage until it’s needed and use the storage space for something else.
Onboard air compressor
The obvious use for an air compressor would seem to be if you got a flat tire or had a slow leak and needed some quick air in a tire in order to make it to a mechanic. And having an onboard air compressor is certainly a comforting accessory should this scenario present itself. But the Rivian was built for rugged terrain and sometimes—whether it be driving on a beach or over rocks on a mountain road—deflating your tires can be prudent. The integrated compressor—seamlessly built into the side of the bed—comes with a kit that includes a 20-foot hose that extends to all four wheels, for inflating your tires after airing down for rough terrain. It also includes a quick-connect nozzle and adapters to fill up myriad other gear including your bike tires, an air mattresses, raft, or even just a basketball. Just set the pressure and hit a button, and voila, you have air whenever you need it.
Portable Blue-tooth Speaker
The built-in (but portable) Bluetooth speaker weighs only 5 pounds and docks seamlessly within the truck’s center console for easy storage when not in use. It charges when docked or can be plugged into an external USB Type-C port when docking isn’t an option.
The flashlight with its own integrated door pocket
Powered by a single cell from Rivian’s battery pack, the flashlight fits—James Bond-style—right into a cylindrical opening on the side of the door (when the door is open). Assuming you always pop it back into place, it will always be fully charged. To access the flashlight you simply press inward on the end of the device (almost like pressing a button) and it pops out. Taking up virtually no space, who wouldn’t want this?
LED lights built into sideview mirrors
The Rivian is the ideal vehicle to go camping with. The folks at Rivian know this and added a lot of simple features that do not add any bulk to its overall form factor. The LEDs built into the side-view mirrors—which can light up a campsite or tailgate—is a perfect example. While they are not as bright as the headlights, they add additional lighting to your camp site or beach BBQ. Don’t like them? Don’t use them. They blend in seamlessly.
Don’t wait till Memorial Day to load up on your favorite rosé—many won’t still be around!
Most people, when they think of rosé, think of the enjoyment it can bring on a hot summer day. Personally I love the salmon colored elixir anytime of year though warm summer weekends certainly lend themselves the most. Continue reading →
Miami is known for its hotels—dating back to the 60’s when Sinatra, Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack frequented town. Not much has changed as many of the choice bars in town still remain inside Miami’s posh hotels. While caribbean themed bars may emanate throughout other parts of the sunshine state, Miami’s bar scene is much more sophisticated. Continue reading →
One of Italy’s most refreshing and food-friendly wines, Lambrusco is an effervescent red wine from Italy that has taken some time to catch on in the U.S. but is finally starting to creep out of obscurity. Continue reading →
The concept of a great Caribbean beach bar—a place where you can wash away your worries amidst tropical surroundings while sipping on a cocktail—usually plays out better in our minds than in reality. Continue reading →
“Thanksgiving Wines” has become an annual favorite of mine to write. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find wines that pair well with a Thanksgiving meal—and informing my readers of my choices—because, quite frankly, not many wines do. This Cabernet will go perfect with some turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole…said, no one.
Of course, big reds like Cabernet would not be the varietals I would look to in this situation, but even some subtler reds or whites can be a difficult task for this once-a-year feast.
I tend to favor American Chardonnay because Thanksgiving is an American holiday and while Chardonnay may not be a match made in heaven for this cuisine, it works about as well anything else. And since I don’t think Chardonnay pairs all that well with much, why not use it in this instance. The key is to find a Chardonnay that has good minerality with little oak and only a small percentage of malolactic fermentation. There is no reason to have a fruity, oaky, butter ball wine with your marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. It’s too much. And favor soil (terrior) over fruit. The more Burgundian your chardonnay is, the better.
I also enjoy some white Rhone varietals with this meal as well as Sauvignon Blanc, but I would advise the same as with Chardonnay—look for minerality and acidity, over round, oaky, buttery wines.
If you go with a red, Pinot Noir from California or Oregon (again, we are going domestic on this holiday) is always a safe bet. Syrah and Zinfandel, which have lighter tannins, can also work provided they are cooler climate ones. Warmer climate reds from places like Paso Robles, for example, can run very high in alcohol and brix (sugar) levels which can put you to sleep on your father-in-law’s couch a little sooner than you anticipated.
So with that in mind, for this 2021 iteration I am focusing on the cool climate, under-appreciated Carneros region of California (with one wine from nearby in Napa Valley). I love the range and variety of wines that come out of the Carneros region. Situated on the southern border of both Napa and Sonoma and just north of the San Pablo Bay it has a sort of “goldy locks” climate with hotter temps to the north in Sonoma and Napa and cool air coming off the bay to the south. While most of the region is known for cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there are micro climates in Carneros that allow for the growing of myriad varietals—Syrah, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and even Riesling.
Ok, enough of the foreplay. Here are my 2021 Thanksgiving wines:
2018 Bouchaine Las Brisas Vineyard Riesling ($38)
As I mentioned, Carneros has a wide range of varietals that can grow in the region. One of these is Rielsing—a varietal that thrives in southern Germany and Alsace, France and is beloved by many somelliers for its complexity and food friendliness. But Carneros has cool enough sites for this grape and the Las Brisas Vineyard is one of the most suitable in all of California due to the fact that the region is often covered in fog until mid-day. The Las Brisas Riesling from Bouchaine showcases beautiful floral notes, white peach and tangy apple notes with just enough acidity to compliment your turkey with gravy as well as your sweet potato pie.
2019 Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc ($22)
More and more Napa Valley wineries are experimenting with non-Bordeaux varietals and I love that. While not quite as many micro climates as Sonoma there are still plenty of micros and soil types in Napa to allow for all sorts of varietals, including most of the Rhone varietals.
The Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc comes from the Somerston Estate in the Napa Valley, a 1,682-acre property with 244 acres of hillside vines, located in the east of Pritchard Hill. When done correctly, white Rhone wines have a lovely bouquet of stone fruits (particularly peach) and white pepper with floral notes and minerality that I love. This Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc is no exception, with intriguing floral aromatics, ample acidity, and flavors of peach, apple tart and Crème Brûlée on the finish.
I consider Etude to be one of the forefathers of the Carneros region. Established in 1982, the winery has been a top Pinot Noir producer for decades. And while Pinot Noir still dominates Etude’s varietal lineup, the winery actually produces quite a few different varietals and blends including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Rose and even a sparkling wine—and they’re all good.
Etude’s Pinot Gris— grown at their Estate “Grace Benoist Ranch” vineyard—has actually become quite popular (a staple on many menus in Northern California) as it’s extremely consistent, food friendly and varietally correct. This classic Pinot Gris offers solid acidity with aromas of pear, apple, stone fruit and white flowers on the nose. Delicate notes of spice, citrus and peach dance on the mid palate while classic Carneros minerality lingers on the long finish.
Ram’s Gate Estate Pinot Noir ($85)
Located at the epicenter of three of Sonoma’s greatest AVAs, Ram’s Gate’s estate vineyard borders the Sonoma Valley to the north, the Sonoma Coast to the west and Carneros to the east, and is the proverbial “Compass Rose” of Sonoma. Like most of the region, the signature morning Carneros fog rolls in off the San Pablo Bay and the wind-rich location creates a “temperature controlled” impact on the estate that is ideal for Pinot Noir.
This wine erupts with a bouquet of cherry, tobacco and clove on the nose. Subtler, classic Pinot Noir notes of strawberry, anise and holiday spices come through on the palate. This wine should work with anyone’s version of a Thanksgiving feast, whether you fancy white or dark meat; sweet potato pie or classic mashed potato with butter; peas or a green bean casserole.
If you read my “Talking Turkey—With Wine” article from last year I covered another “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay. If it seems redundant for me to cover another one this year, that’s fair. But the truth is, Carneros is currently making arguably the best Chardonnay in California (Aubert, Donum, Tor and Hyde de Villaine all make world-class Chardonnay here) and the superstar Hyde vineyard is probably the best of the best, turning out high quality Chardonnays on the most consistent basis. So why not touch on it back-to-back years.
DuMol’s “Hyde Vineyard” Carneros Chardonnay has lots of pineapple (tropical fruits are indicative of this vineyard) elegant floral notes, and lemon zest on the nose with wonderful acidity and limestone minerality on the long, long finish. The wine is extremely complex with integrated acidity and flavors that unfold fluidly. It should go wonderfully with your Thanksgiving meal but can also be relished afterward while you settle into a football game or talk politics with family and friends. Your only issue with this wine will be finding a bottle of it, but if you do, it’s worth the price.
After being one of the most popular kids at the party in the 90’s, Napa Valley Merlot took a hit to its reputation in the 2000’s. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly the reason as the quality did not suffer. If anything it got better.
The 2004 movie Sideways certainly did not help. In perhaps its most famous scene, the main character Miles, who adores Pinot Noir and seemingly loathes Merlot declares before a double date evening with his best friend Jack, “I’m not drinking any f—ing Merlot.” After that Pinot Noir sales went up and Merlot went down in the US and that remained the trend for many years. Yet in reality Merlot was already stumbling. I know because I spent many a Saturday or Sunday in Napa during this time and could see with my own eyes that the interest in Merlot among the wine tasting crowd was waning.
Some will point to the fact that California Merlots used to be too one dimensional, intended for blending or for making a very quaffable wine that appealed to a wide range of people albeit in a simplistic if not monolithic fashion. My personal theory is that Merlot took a back seat to Cabernet from a perception standpoint during the late 90’s and early 2000’s—a unique period in US history when a lot of money was being made (and later lost) and people based their opinions more on what they read or heard versus what they actually experienced or tasted. From expensive technology stocks to expensive wine, perception played a big role during these hifalutin times. Commanding higher prices and receiving higher scores from the critics (namely Robert Parker and Wine Spectator), Cabernet was king in California.
This superficial period also happened to conveniently coincide with some stellar Cabernet vintages coming out of Napa and Sonoma, thanks in part to favorable weather and a mini winemaking renaissance of sorts which further helped solidify Napa Valley on the worldwide stage—along with its most high profile varietal—Cabernet. Combine these factors with the advent of the Internet—which allowed wine geeks like me to keep tabs on exactly which wines were getting the top scores—and it’s no surprise that Napa Cabernet, the most expensive and highest scoring in California, took off in popularity.
But Napa Valley Merlot—which has been thriving in the valley for as long as Cabernet—never faltered in quality during this time. In fact, while not a lot of people were paying attention it just better. And people are starting to take notice. At least I am.
I recently tried a Merlot from Sullivan Winery in Rutherford (Napa) and it blew me away. I can easily say it is one of the best wines I have had from Napa, of any varietal. It’s important to also point out that I tried this wine without knowing the price. No matter how unbiased a wine writer or critic attempts to be, it is inherently impossible not to have the knowledge of price effect our thinking or judging. In this case I was not surprised to find out after I had relished in a glass for twenty minutes that it commanded a hefty price. It’s justified in my humble opinion.
Consisting of 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot, the 2018 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot is actually more of a “right bank” Bordeaux style than a straight up merlot. And I love that. Aromatically, this wine has distinguished earthy qualities rooted in the typical notes synonymous with “Rutherford Dust” leading with notes of graphite, tobacco leaf and cocoa, along with an unforgettable fruitful essence that emerges from the glass. On the palate, the seriousness of the wine becomes apparent. Broad, structured and coating, the wine maintains an old-world finesse, with freshness and bright acidity. Layered, nuanced and complex, flavors of raspberries, rhubarb, crushed herbs and wet stone minerality meld together seamlessly, leaving a prolonged and satisfying finish. The polished, yet complex tannin structure gives the wine an invitation to cellar.
An architectural gem hailed for its iconic nine-story atrium and pyramidal skylight, The Beekman unites some of the world’s greatest talent, including the sophisticated design of Martin Brudnizki and the culinary cachet of restaurateur and chef Tom Colicchio. Continue reading →
Classic, old fashioned cocktails are back in vogue. And their simplicity is what makes them so timeless—and good. Don’t overthink your mixology psychology this summer. Impress your guests with these easy to make, refreshing, summer classics.
For whatever reason, when talking about Italian wines many people think of red wines—Barolo, Brunello, Barbaresco, Super Tuscan. Yet Italy produces 17 different white wine varietals—more than any other country—with a variety of styles and characteristics that can work with almost any cuisine. One of these varietals, which tends to fly a bit under the radar, is Vermentino. Considered to be one of the most important white wines produced in Italy, Vermentino, if done right, can be one of the great food wines. It’s perfumed nose and rich minerality make it a great match for light summer meals from fresh fish and produce, to light pasta dishes with olive oil and herbs to a simple burrata salad. It can also stand up to heavier dishes such as Gnocchi with mushroom sauce, Bouillabaisse or even a classic Chicken Piccata.
Produced mostly on the island of Sardinia, Vermentino is generally light in body yet is quite complex with alluring aromas of peach, white pepper and lemon zest. On the palate, Vermentino can have a slight oiliness to it but is otherwise dry and crisp. What I love most about a good Vermentino is the mineral and saline characteristics. Wine, after all, is made from fruit off a vine that is grown from the earth’s soil. And while a wine’s bouquet may greet you, and its mid palate may strike up conversation, it is the earthiness, the soil, the terrior of the wine that lingers on the finish, leaving an indelible mark in your wine memory bank. Subsequently, it is also what makes a good food wine.
2020 Surrau “Limizzani” Vermentino Di Gallura DOCG (SRP: $16)
Located fifteen minutes from the stunning Costa Smeralda in the northeastern corner of Sardinia, Vigne Surrau is home to the only DOCG on the island of Sardinia—Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.
This 100% Vermentino is a blend of fruit from all of Surrau’s estate vineyards and was fermented and aged in stainless steel. The 2020 Limizzani is quintessential Vermentino with a bouquet of spice, crushed flowers, white peaches and apricots that lift up out of the glass. The perfumed nose leads to more stone fruits, pepper and lemon zinger, followed by crushed stones and a viscousness on the palate that is typical of Vermentino. The round, supple mid palate finishes crisp and clean.
Surrau’s 2019 “Sciala” Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG (SRP: $27) is wonderful as well with similar characteristics, but I actually preferred the lower priced Limizzani, without knowing the price difference. At $16 a bottle the Limmizzani is a great wine to buy several bottles of or even a case of and enjoy throughout the summer with fresh seafood, pasta and other summer fresh dishes.
While San Francisco may have become too expensive to live in, it is still relatively affordable to visit. Unlike New York City’s hotel scene, which seems to grow and grow, with trendy newcomers stealing the show, many of San Francisco’s top places to stay are the same properties they have always been—albeit some minor name changes.
Rooftop Bars have been all the rage of late in big cities, from New York to L.A. and everywhere in between. And while this trend shows no sign of stopping, with more and more watering holes opening up atop dormant rooftops, most are suited for drinks and appetizers and are not true outdoor dining destinations. Continue reading →
When it comes to fine wines and gourmet foods, we have a tendency as consumers to put things in a geographic box. Only the small Champagne region in northern Burgundy can produce world-class sparkling wine, right? Only the cold waters off the coast of Maine are where quality lobsters are caught, right? And great rosé only comes from Provence right? Wrong.
Italy and Spain produce myriad styles of wonderful rosé and rosato. So does South Africa and Argentina. And so does Napa Valley. “Wait, Napa Valley,” you say. Renowned for their Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet and Merlot (and word-class Sauvignon Blanc which never seems to get its due recognition) Napa Valley not only makes great rosé but is perfectly positioned to be a rosé producing machine if it really wanted to be.
As it is, many Napa wineries make a rosé but few seem to promote them or sell them on the retail market much. Don’t expect to see many in wine stores or on restaurant wine lists outside of Northern California. They are typically reserved for club members and tastings at the winery. In my article Napa Nuances from a couple years I quipped about Sauvignon Blanc that, “for a long time, it played the role of warm up wine—a palate cleanser or amuse bouche—before the featured wines.” Similarly, rosé is the wine a tasting room manager greets you with when you first walk in. It’s a “greeting” wine.
Due to its unrelenting popularity, however, I expect this to change. Yes, rosé will still be a greeting wine at many Napa wineries, but I would expect to see more of them on wine lists and on the retail market in the future. Why? The simple explanation for this prediction is that a) rosé remains ultra-popular in the US (and is no longer just a summertime attraction) and b) Napa Valley has the means to produce a ton of it. While Rhone varietals such as Grenache and Cinsault and Mouvedre remain the choice for many Rhone and Provence style rosés, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can make for wonderful rosé too and these varietals are abundant in Napa Valley—with plenty to spare.
I can’t speak for every winery in Napa but typically higher-end wineries will “drop” a lot of fruit or declassify certain barrels they don’t consider to be of high enough quality to make it into the final wine. This “extra” fruit can be used in myriad ways. It can be sold to negotiants. It can used to make a blend or second label that’s only sold at the winery. It can be used internally as “practice fruit” to test new blending techniques. And it can certainly be used to make rosé—great rosé. Considering that most rosé wines are relatively inexpensive, the “leftover” fruit that goes into many Napa rosés—while not quite up to snuff for the $60 Merlot or $80 Cabernet—is more than sufficient quality-wise for the more whimsical, low key rosé.
Here are several Napa Valley rosés I like. Each one is made from different varietals resulting in different styles.
If you like Provence style rosé but wish they were a bit more bold. With brighter fruit. And a bit fleshier. With more structured tannins. This is your wine. Like most Napa producers, Sullivan excels at red Bordeaux varietals, making some of the finest Cabs and Merlots in the valley. Like many producers in Napa, their rosé started out as fun thing to do—essentially a “greeting” wine. Boy is it good though. Their 2020 rosé is a light pink/salmon color, similar in color to the classic roses from Provence. In the glass, floral aromas and citrus notes of Meyer lemon, tangerine, white peach and limestone emanate. On the palate layers of strawberry, orange and lemon curd unfold with a lot of complexity for a seemingly simplistic wine. Acidity and minerality are abundant on the clean, crisp finish. This wine could be enjoyed with just about anything from shellfish to BBQ.
Swanson Vineyards 2020 Rosato (Sangiovese)—$24
Swanson has had their rosé for about as long as anyone in Napa—though it’s actually a Rosato, made in the classic Italian style from Sangiovese. While I haven’t actually looked this up, I know I had it circa 2001-2004 when I visited the winery, so that’s sufficient for me. I loved it then and love it now. This wine is light red in color (not pink), with a bouquet of strawberries and rose petals on the nose. On the palate it opens with red fruits (cherries, pomegranates and ripe strawberries) moving toward mellower watermelon and stone fruits on the finish. Despite its darker color than some of the other rosés on this list, this Rosato is very crisp and refreshing and can be enjoyed with any number of foods.
Frank Family 2020 “Leslie” Rosé (Pinot Noir)—$50
This new wine from Frank Family is a tribute to Proprietor, Leslie Frank, inspired by her love for Provençal rosé and the “good life.” This rosé is made from 100% Pinot Noir, sourced from the cool pockets of Napa’s Carneros region, including their family-owned Lewis Vineyard located along the shores of the San Pablo Bay. Layers of strawberry, white peach, apricot and orange creamsicle on the palate unfold with wet stone and a hint of lemon zest on the finish. This is a wonderful sipping wine for any occasion, with or without food.
Gamble 2019 Rosé—$28
A blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot, Gamble’s rosé sounds like a classic Bordeaux style blend. And it is. Only it’s a rose. A bouquet of cranberries, grapefruit and crushed flowers dominate on the on the nose. On the palate, watermelon gives way to cherry, strawberry and lemon zest. The finish is long and refreshing with good acidity and minerality. Enjoy this wine with just about anything, including Asian food or rich seafood dishes like a homemade paella.
As we move into the middle of spring and the weather across the US (and northern hemisphere) begins to warm up, it is only natural for people’s wine tastes to change.
Rosé reasserts itself after a long winter’s nap and white varietals begin to fly off the shelf too. For those that prefer red wine, regardless of the weather or occasion or food pairing, it seems only natural to favor the softer, more delicate varietals, like Pinot Noir. But if you love Bordeaux varietals and simply will not be satiated with anything else when there’s juicy meats coming off the grill, you might find a nice Bordeaux style blend from Napa Valley to be the perfect fit.
Blends, which typically include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and to a lesser degree Petite Verdot and Malbec) can offer the ideal balance in a red wine and they pair nicely with grilled meats, barbecue and other stuff you might be cooking as the weather warms. Also, blends from the new world typically offer brighter fruit than their French counterparts which further helps them pair nicely with a variety of foods, including your Memorial Day smorgasburg of burgers and sausages and steaks.
I was lucky enough to recently try the 2017 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount ($90), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot sourced from the Gamble family’s vineyards in Oakville and St. Helena and it was delicious.
Greater than the sum of its parts, the final blend for the 2017 Paramount was drawn from fruit grown on nine different vineyard sites stretching the length and breadth of the Napa Valley. With the intention of allowing each variety to express its unique terroir and character, Winemaker Jim Close ferments each wine separately. At the core of this blend is Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from Gamble’s Knoll-top vineyard and St. Helena Cabernet Franc, which harmonizes with Oakville Merlot from just below Gamble’s Family Home vineyard and Petit Verdot grown on the slopes of Mount St. Helena.
Of course, high pedigree vineyard sites don’t magically make great wines. You need a great wine maker—which they have—as well as a keen understanding of how to farm the land and yield great fruit…responsibly. At the heart of the winery’s regenerative farming approach is owner Tom Gamble, a third-generation farmer, who purchased his first vineyard in 1981. Over 20 years later, he started Gamble Family Vineyards with the goal of celebrating the distinct Napa Valley terroir he had come to know and love. A strong believer that wine is a gift from the earth, Tom takes a holistic approach when caring for his vineyards and the surrounding land.
The 2017 Paramount is deftly balanced—bold yet approachable—with just enough oak and the kind of soft tannins you expect from a top tier Napa Valley blend. Dark fruits—raspberries, black currants, plum—explode out of the glass, giving way to mocha and vanilla notes on the long, long finish. This wine has just enough acidity to make it a wonderful food wine, yet is soft enough to enjoy on its own or casually with some hard cheeses and charcuterie.
Still prefer white wines this summer? Gamble also makes one of the best Sauvignon Blancs in Napa Valley. Their “Heartblock” Sauvignon Blanc ($90), while pricey for the white varietal, is a benchmark for quality Sauvignon Blanc in Napa Valley.
Napa Valley can stoke some excitement in people who visit for the first time. There is nothing wrong, after all, with the obligatory stretch limo, cellar tours and boisterous conversations with the winery folk. Continue reading →
Like any good idea in New York City, once it’s out, everyone wants in. The proliferation of rooftop bars and restaurants in NYC has been a great thing, as many hotels, restaurants and building owners have realized just how valuable their rooftops really are. Continue reading →
If you’ve lived in California then you probably know how much the Pacific Ocean affects the air temperature. Coastal towns and cities can experience temperatures that are routinely 15-20 degrees cooler than locations just a few miles inland, and this juxtaposition is at its starkest in the summer. [Top Photo: Cathleen Evangelista]
Billed as “the greatest show on grass” the WMPO is truly a unique tournament for both the players and spectators alike. Construction of the stands and other venues at TPC Scottsdale’s stadium course start nearly four months in advance. I can vouch for this timeline as I’ve played the course in late October and construction crews had more than begun work, with workers out on a Saturday, assembling the grandstand. It takes construction crews months of ‘round-the-clock’ work to build the “city” at TPC Scottsdale for this one-of-a-kind tournament.
“The People’s Open”—as it is affectionately known—was named the Tournament of the Year by the PGA TOUR in 2019, an honor it has received four times in the last six years (2014, 2015, 2018, 2019) helping the tournament gain legendary status for being perhaps the most lively, if not rowdy event in golf. The most popular spot on the Stadium Course is the 16th hole, a par 3 that, during the tournament, is the only fully enclosed hole on the PGA tour. A 20,000-seat grandstand plays host to fans who typically respond to great—and bad—shots alike with raucous excitement.
While the WMPO is certainly a treat for golf enthusiasts, a weekend in Scottsdale itself is no consolation prize. There are numerous reasons to visit this part of Arizona in January, February or March—weather being the focal point of course. Nearly 314 days of sunshine per year and some of the warmest year-round temps in the U.S. make this a top desert destination for 8.9 million visitors per year. 51 area golf courses, diverse shopping hotspots, and engaging arts and culture attractions elevate Scottsdale to the top of the must-visit list for anyone in search of warmer weather.
The Jewel of the Sonoran
Known as the jewel of the Sonoran Desert, Scottsdale is located on the eastern edge of Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by sun-drenched mountains and dotted with brightly colored cacti that radiates its natural beauty. The city’s warm climate will come as no surprise, but its desert location might mean you don’t expect to also find world-class food, art, architecture and golf courses that have earned Scottsdale its “Beverly Hills of the Southwest” reputation.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet of where to “Stay, Play and Eat Gourmet” in Socttsdale, AZ.
Since 1988, Scottsdale’s The Phoenician Resort has been a vast oasis in the desert, a 250-acre luxury property offering guests some of the Southwest’s best in dining, spa, golf and more. In short, it has everything you could possibly want—great rooms, restaurants, a world-class spa, newly redesigned 18-hole golf course and 9 (yes 9!) pools—while unwinding in the desert.
If you’ve been to The Phoenician pre-2016 you might be surprised to know that it has undergone a multi-year renovation, because, quite frankly, it didn’t appear to need one. But great hotels are always evolving. In 2016, the 60 guestrooms in the Canyon Suites, a AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five Star boutique hotel within the resort, were redesigned as was its pool area and lobby. Also that year, the Phoenician’s main building was renovated, 557 rooms total.
Most of the public areas got a face-lift in 2017, and 2018 brought a new three-story spa that features a rooftop pool as well as a fresh golf course and athletic club.
Mother of Pearls
Perhaps the most impressive asset on their 250-acre property is the pools—a three-tiered complex that features the iconic, hand-tiled Mother of Pearl pool on the lower level; and three separate, recreational-styled pools on the upper level. A newly designed center lounge area offers reserved, family-friendly seating on the north side; and adult-only accommodations with pool and cabanas on the south side. For kids, a variety of imaginative escapades awaits at the premiere treehouse and waterslide, along with the splash pad.
Also impressive is the Phoenician Spa. Called the Centre for Well-Being, the 22,000-square-foot complex offers everything you could want to make your stay just a touch—or a whole lot—more relaxing. Featuring 24 treatment rooms—including a Tranquility Suite for couples—as well as a quiet relaxation room and locker rooms with a vitality pool, steam and sauna, this brand-new, three-story facility allows you to unwind from everyday stresses and feel completely rejuvenated. Enjoy aerial yoga, meditation and cardio classes in the Movement Studio, or work out in the Fitness Center. Or tap into your competitive side with some outdoor tennis, pickleball or half-court basketball action at their “athletic club.”
Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa
Built into the side of Camelback Mountain (the 900m-high rocky outcrop shaped like a camel’s head that dominates the local skyline) is the upmarket Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa. While it may not have the pure scale of offerings as the Phoenician—smaller pool(s), fewer dining options and no golf course, it’s about quality over quantity at this relaxation-centric resort, especially if you like a world-class spa. Retreat to ultimate comfort within a spacious casitas, suites or Sanctuary’s exclusive villas, each offering the most spectacular views of the famed Paradise Valley.
When all the relaxation has you hungry they have you covered, compliments of Food Network star and Executive Chef Beau MacMillan and his award-winning cuisine. With unrivalled views of the area, an award-winning spa, an excellent restaurant and bar and famous mid-century modern design, it understandably attracts a high-end crowd. Rumor has it that Jay-Z and Beyoncé even honeymooned there.
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
With 40 acres of awe inspiring desert scenery as a backdrop, the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North sits in a prime location between downtown Scottsdale and downtown Phoenix. 210 well-proportioned rooms are spread out over the property in a series of one and two-story casita-style designs. The resort recently completed a $13 million renovation inspired by the natural grandeur of its Sonoran Desert setting.
Designed by Whitespace Interiors, all of the resort’s spacious casitas and suites got a makeover. Intended to enhance the luxury desert experience with natural elements set against a subtle earth tone palette the contemporary new furnishings, streamlined décor, and modern artwork capture the warm, peaceful essence of this rocky desert retreat.
Other solid choices: Fairmont Scottsdale, W Scottsdale, Andaz Scottsdale.
Where to Play:
This part is hard because golf courses are very personal in taste. Also, there are literally dozens of great golf courses in Scottsdale—54 to be exact. Here are a few I like. And these also happen to be—purely by coincidence—some of the most popular (if that matters to you).
If Scottsdale is the “crown jewel” of the Sonoran Desert, many might consider Troon North to be the crown jewel of Scottsdale golf courses. Newer courses have taken some of the spotlight away from this desert classic, but Troon North’s two 18-hole courses remain a hallmark of Scottsdale golf. Immaculately groomed fairways, bentgrass greens and exceptional customer service create the renowned Troon Golf Experience. Troon North’s Monument and Pinnacle courses consistently rank at the top of every golfer’s must-play list. Recent course renovations by original designer and British Open Champion Tom Weiskopf have created two new layouts that bring his original concept to life.
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club
Offering breathtaking views of the McDowell Mountains, Red Mountain, Four Peaks and the Superstitions, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club—which opened in 2001—lies on Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation land that will never be commercially developed. With two award-winning golf courses, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club delivers one of the best golf experiences in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. Scott Miller designed the Cholla Course, while Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw teamed up to create Saguaro. The results have captivated the golf world ever since opening for public play to much acclaim by industry leading publications such as Golf Magazine, Golfweek and Golf Digest.
GreyHawk Golf Club
Established in 1994, Grayhawk Golf Club features two par-72 golf courses—Talon and Raptor—engineered with their own distinctive personalities. Talon offers a desert-style test of golf that skirts thick stands of Sonoran Desert and box canyons on the way to large multi-tiered greens. Raptor delivers more traditional challenges clearly laid out come-and-get-it style with generous fairways and deep greenside bunkers guarding crowned greens. Both of the highly acclaimed layouts at Grayhawk Golf Club are widely considered to be among the best golf courses in Scottsdale. are available to gear up before golf as well as clean up after.
If you are heading straight to the golf course from the airport Grey Hawk is a great place to start as the club house is fully loaded with amenities including full service men’s and women’s locker rooms and great food and beverages at Phil’s Grill when you are finished.
TPC Scottsdale (Stadium and Champions Courses)
Surrounded by the stunning McDowell Mountains, TPC Scottsdale boasts two championship courses for players to enjoy—the world famous Stadium Course and the stunning Champions Course. As Arizona’s only PGA Tour property, you’ll experience the standards of quality and service normally reserved for the tour professionals. Home to the Waste Management Phoenix Open,
The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale has hosted some of contemporary golf’s greatest moments since opening in 1986. The course was designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf specifically to serve as the stage for the tournament—what’s now become the largest spectator golf event in the world.
Rivaling its famous sister course in both beauty and playability, the Randy Heckenkemper-designed Champions Course offers an ideal desert golf experience. Built on the former site of TPC Scottsdale’s Desert Course, the layout was completely revamped in 2007 to flow seamlessly within the naturally rugged terrain, meandering between natural ravines and through picturesque foothills.
And Eat Gourmet:
Mastros City Hall Steak House
If you only have one night to dine out in Scottsdale and you like red meat, there is only place to go—Mastros. Not necessarily because they have the best steak in town—Scottsdale has a lot of competition in that department—but because it’s simply a great scene (though the steak, sides, appetizers and wine list will not disappoint). The sleek, if not gaudy interior screams American opulence, but in a fun, lighthearted way that is exciting. If that’s not reason enough, the restaurant also just underwent a renovation that encompasses nearly every aesthetic from floor to ceiling of the 12,000-square foot space, along with new menu items.
One of the more visually noticeable changes is the wine bottle display that hangs over the bar. It has been adjusted to display on both sides for maximum admiring. A new wine wall displays an impressive collection of reds while temperature control makes it fully functional. As for new menu items? What new menu items could a cavernous steakhouse with a huge menu really add. How about Authentic Kobe beef: The restaurant recently acquired a license to sell the meat coveted for its pedigree, exclusivity and marbling. Diners can choose a 4-ounce portion served in one of two ways: Sliced and served on a hot stone accompanied by jalapeno ponzu, hot sesame mustard and chimichurri sauces; or, a hand-cut steak divvied up in 2-ounce pieces that’s seasoned with coarse salt and cracked black pepper.
While Mastros may reign supreme when it comes to history and word of mouth- driven cache, Dominick’s Steakhouse is hard to beat—in any category. From their 28 day wet-aged steaks, to the thoughtfully manicured wine list to their crowd-pleaser sides (corn brulle, shishito peppers) and appetizers (from fresh burrata to a loaded seafood tower) they have everything you want in a steakhouse. But the atmosphere is perhaps its greatest asset—a vibe of sophistication and elegance that even Mastros can’t challenge. With leather embossed walls lined with tasteful artwork and hand-crafted chandeliers hanging from the ceiling the main floor offers guests one of the most luxurious restaurant settings in Scottsdale while the second floor gives diners a modern feel as they enjoy steaks at one of the tables surrounding the rooftop pool.
Virtu Honest Craft
Celebrated as one of the top 20 “Best New Restaurants” in the U.S. by Esquire Magazine immediately upon opening in 2013, as well as nominated by the prestigious James Beard Foundation for “Best New Restaurant” in 2014, Virtù is Chef Gio Osso’s intimate, stylish gathering spot tucked inside Old Town Scottsdale’s charming Bespoke Inn bed and breakfast. Menus feature handmade pastas, premium seasonal produce sourced from some of Arizona’s most celebrated farmers, superb seafood imported from the most notable fish markets in North America and southern Europe, as well as a seasonal cocktail program crafted with fresh-pressed juices and unique spirits.
Chef Shinji Kurita specializes in the traditional Japanese coursing menu with modern twist. In 2012, ShinBay in Scottsdale was a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant”. In 2013, Chef Shinji Kurita was a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for “Best Chef Southwest”. Kurita’s two-hour omakase dinner (Japan’s freewheeling version of the tasting menu) is a fish-centric joyride with one of the city’s great talents, a perfectionist who sources rare, top-quality fish, uses age-old cooking methods and applies the Japanese principle of subtraction (akin to “less is more”) to every dish – painstakingly creating beautiful bite-size masterpieces that honor time and place. In Kurita’s capable hands, simplicity looks so easy.
Once called “the epicenter of creative Arizona cuisine” by Food & Wine Magazine, as well as named “Best New Restaurant” by nearly every major publication in the Phoenix area upon its debut in 2009, FnB has continued to receive acclaim both locally and beyond for its richly flavored, globally accented seasonal menus, continually showcasing the best of Arizona’s abundant farming and agricultural community. Tucked inside the charming and historic Craftsman Court, in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, FnB owes its praise and passion to its owners, Chef Charleen Badman and Front of House Manager and Beverage Director Pavle Milic. Notes the New York Times “Few restaurants have done as much as FnB in Old Town to illuminate the agricultural bounty of Arizona.”
The Roaring Fork’s Wood Fired Cooking captures the spirit of bold American cuisine, creating flavors that crackle with a rugged edge. In the Old West, the best food was prepared on a simple wood fire. This same spirit, freshness and flavor are at the heart of every dish we serve. Select from lamb, chicken, beef, pork and fresh fish entrees all perfectly prepared by wood fire rotisserie, open flame grill or wood oven roasting. Add to this our impeccable service and an atmosphere as inviting as our food, and you’ve got a dining experience you’ll come back for again and again. Roaring Fork’s ideal blend of energy and intimacy has made it a favorite for over a decade.
Mowry & Cotton
Located at the Phoenician, Mowry & Cotton offers modern American cuisine prepared using cooking techniques of fire, coal and smoke. A large, hearth oven stands as the central focal point of the lively, approachable restaurant. Chef de Cuisine Tandy Peterson injects her own signature style and knowledge of international cooking techniques into the eatery’s regionally inspired American dishes. From flatbreads adorned with locally-sourced ingredients to fresh fish, hearty proteins and ample options for vegetarian diners, Mowry & Cotton’s straightforward menu features great fare from one of the area’s top emerging culinary talents.
Also at the Phoenician, located right in the lobby, is The Thirsty Camel—one of most beautiful, relaxing and visually magnificent “lobby bars” you will ever come across. But don’t just take my word for it. They happened to be awarded the Forbes Travel Guide “World’s Best Hotel Bars” for 2019. Thirsty Camel features spectacular panoramic views of the resort and valley beyond, as well as a Sonoran inspired food and beverage menu with diverse and exceptional selections of bourbons, whiskies, premium spirits, and handcrafted cocktails for locals and resort guests alike. Their spicy margarita is spot on perfect.
While a lot of the heavy lifting to help curb climate change and other environmental concerns requires governmental initiatives there are plenty of things individuals and the private sector can do to make a difference too. Continue reading →
Not long ago Napa Valley had few luxury lodgings options. Auberge du Soleil pretty much had a monopoly on the market. Yet today, visitors looking to pamper themselves can choose between lux juggernauts such as Carneros Resort and Spa (formerly Carneros Inn), Calistoga Inn, Solage and Meadowood—to name a few. Continue reading →
1,000 acres—3 Deluxe Hotels—2,300 rooms—100,000 square foot casino —8 Pools—30 Bars—42 Restaurants—$4 Billion in total cost.
These are just some of the staggering statistics that accompany the newly opened, much ballyhooed, longtime-in-the-making mega resort Baha Mar in the Bahamas—which was famous long before it ever opened due to multiple bankruptcies, a revolving door of owners, and the now well documented, stutter-step fashion in which it was conceived and ultimately built. Continue reading →
There are a lot of things trending right now in the adult beverage world. Rose, Froze, Hard Seltzers, Canned Wines and Cocktails. And then there is craft beer—perhaps on another level—which continues to bask in its ever-growing popularity. Continue reading →
Located high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range in the heart of the Rockies resides a small chocolatier company—with huge arms —that produces some of world’s best chocolate. Meaning “by hand” and “they love” in Italian, Amano prides itself on sourcing only the world’s very best cacao beans and ingredients. Continue reading →
Travevel is a new platform that combines the familiarity and interactivity of a social platform with user generated content focused on travel, tourism, exploration and adventure. Travevel’s interactive platform is ad-free and filled with user-generated image and video travel content, including an interactive map. Here’s what CEO LeAnn Campas has to say about the future of travel and social media’s role.
Q. Why are travel and social media so synergistic?
A. Social media is visual and there are few things more visually interesting than travel images and videos. The two were made for each other. Additionally, the vast majority of us put more weight on personal experiences, and there is no better way to share our adventures, explore others’ experiences and interact with them than through a social platform.
Q. Does Travevel lend itself more to user-generated content (UGC) than some other genres and if so why?
A. UGC always carries more weight and credibility to consumers than any form of paid content and we have seen growing frustration from users of other platforms as to the aggressive amount of ads they are seeing, which has a negative impact on the user experience. With Travevel, our mission is to focus on authentic content from personal users. While business user accounts will be a part of the platform, the content they upload cannot be branded or watermarked, nor can they pay any additional fees for their content to be prioritized or shown in a different manner than individual user content. We want to ensure that the user has full control over what they see and how they interact with not only other users, but businesses as well.
Q. What is it like launching a travel-oriented social media platform during a worldwide pandemic that has brought the travel industry to its knees?
A. There is no question that this is a challenging time to develop and launch Travevel, however, we have found there to be some benefits to the timing. Through speaking with other travelers worldwide who have had severe restrictions placed on their movements and activities, we have seen even more enthusiasm about future travel not only from frequent travelers, but from those who didn’t have any plans pre-pandemic. A very large number of people have been actively researching and exploring new destinations to escape this new, and drastically different normal. Travevel is a platform that helps users plan now for travel later.
Q. Will COVID-19 change the future of travel even after a vaccine? What are the positives and negatives that will come out of this for the travel industry?
A. Based on the dramatic increase in activity we have seen in the last few months as more destinations started to open, I feel the only thing that will prevent a return to normal levels next year will be limitations on air transportation and rolling travel restrictions across the globe. Being shut in for so long has certainly seemed to increase interest in travel and new experiences, which should greatly benefit the industry. The main negative long-term will be transportation and occupancy based. It may take some time to see the effects of reduced airline routes combined with destinations operating a reduced occupancy. Unfortunately, at least in the short-term, employees will bear the brunt of these decreases.
Q. What are some destinations you recommend right now for Americans based on COVID-19 restrictions and protocols and all the headwinds associated with them.
A. While it is difficult to put together a list, there are so many amazing National parks and outdoors destinations close to home, no matter where you live. Internationally we have been very impressed with the protocols and restrictions imposed by Jamaica since the country reopened in July. Requiring a negative COVID test, designating a tourism corridor and mandatory masking in public areas have been very effective, and to date, they haven’t had any cases by guests or staff at resorts. We have visited four times since July and have always felt safe. Many countries are now reopening to tourism with a wide range of protocols in place from Mexico with no testing or authorization required, to others where a negative test is required as little as 48 hours prior to arrival in addition to travel authorizations, mandatory insurance. From our personal viewpoint, we prefer to travel to an area with well thought out, and in some cases, challenging safety protocols. These are interesting times for travel and we strongly encourage others to visit destinations that make you feel safe and comfortable based on your personal situation.
Q. What will travel look like in 2021?
A. There is certainly no shortage of people wanting to get away. The struggle will be finding available space in both transportation and lodging because of reduced routes and capacity. These transportations challenges could very well lead to a dramatic increase in weekend trips to parks, beaches and other outdoor attractions close to home.
Q. Any tips for travelers in 2021 and beyond?
A. Be flexible, be patient, and be understanding. The entire world has changed and everyone is still figuring things out.
Bordeaux style blends from Napa Valley have always been a favorite of mine. Whether it’s a left bank style (heavier on the Cabernet Sauvignon), a right bank style (heavier on the Merlot and Cab Franc) or somewhere in the middle, the concept of blending varietals together to make a more rounded, complex wine has been around for a long time. The French championed the style a couple centuries ago in Bordeaux—more out of necessity than preference, since their climate does not always yield ripe enough fruit. Thus blending was needed to smooth out the edges and soften the tannins. Napa’s trailblazer vintners were initially reticent to blend because they did not want to copy the French—nor did they need to. Thanks to its warm climate and consistently sunny days during most of the growing season, a lack of ripeness is rarely a problem in Napa. But the practice eventually took hold nonetheless. Joseph Phelps is considered by many to be the first winery in Napa Valley to practice the technique, back in the 1970’s. Their flagship wine “Insignia,” considered the first Bordeaux-style blend in Napa, remains one of my favorite wines.
Of course, many producers in Napa Valley still prefer to make 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and excel at it. Caymus Special Selection and Shafer Hillside Select are two of the most revered Napa cabs on the market, with international name recognition and cult-like status. Thanks in part to ideal vineyards plots, perfect soil and a long growing season—these producers can make world-class red wines that consist of 100% Cabernet, yet with decidedly soft, plush tannins and layers of complexity that might easily be mistaken for a blend. While most Napa wineries tend to concentrate and excel at one or the other, a few excel at both.
Located in the Stag’s Leap district of Napa Valley, Cliff Lede Vineyards is one of these producers that has mastered both. They make blends—namely their “Claret” and “High Fidelity” labels. And they make Cabernet—though depending on the label and the vintage it could be anywhere from 85% to 100% Cabernet, give or take a few percentage points. All of their wines, even their Sauvignon Blanc, are extraordinary in my opinion. Before I delve more into their wines, let’s take a quick look at the winery itself and it’s rather short, yet successful history in Napa Valley.
Cliff Lede Vineyards was established in 2002 by Canadian born Bordeaux enthusiast, Cliff Lede, following the acquisition of a sixty acre estate in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. With a focus on producing wines from estate vineyards, Lede tapped David Abreu, considered the best viticulturist in Napa Valley, to replant the vineyards. Lede decided to name each vineyard block after some of his favorite rock songs and albums—from “My Generation” to “Dark Side of the Moon,” creating what is known today as the Cliff Lede Vineyards “Rock Blocks.” In 2005, a state of the art, 25,000 square foot winery and cave system was etched into a hillside overlooking the estate vineyards. Winemaker Christopher Tynan crafts Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, with the flagship, Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from the steep eastern hillside portion of the estate.
Stag’s Leap District
Ok, so what makes these wines special? After all, Napa Valley is home to a lot of great producers. For me, it’s the balance, complexity and polish of their wines. And while winemaker Christopher Tynan deserves a lot of credit, even he would probably agree that the vineyard plots Cliff Lede lays claim to in the Stag’s Leap District play a major role in the final product. There are 16 AVAs in total in Napa Valley and each one has different characteristics. Yet, while the differentiating characteristics of these AVAs can be debated, it is hard to argue against the notion that Stag’s Leap District Cabernets have distinctively softer, silkier tannins than their neighboring AVAs. This is what SLD Cabernets are known for. Power and elegance.
Situated in southeastern Napa Valley, along the Silverado Trail, about five miles north of the city of Napa, the Stags Leap District is only about a mile wide and three miles in length. This makes it is one of the smallest AVAs in Napa Valley. And given its southern location in Napa Valley, it is also one of the cooler AVAs, resulting in a more subdued style of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Often referred to as a “valley within a valley,” the district is bounded on the east by the towering Stags Leap Palisades, to the west by the rolling hills and Napa River, to the north by the Yountville Cross Road, and to the south by low-lying flatlands. These landscape features lend the district its clear physical identity while a unique set of topographical characteristics make it ideal climate for growing Cabernet.
Says the Stag’s Leap District Winegrowers Association, “The rock facades of the palisades reflect the heat of the sun onto the vineyards below, causing temperatures to rise more quickly than in neighboring vineyards. As afternoon draws to a close, the hills funnel the cool, marine air flowing north from the San Pablo Bay through the Stags Leap District corridor. The cooling effect of this breeze, coupled with nighttime air drainage off the mountains and hills, means lower nighttime temperatures. This allows the grapes to achieve an excellent balance of acid and sugar and also minimizes the threat of frost. The end result is a longer growing season of warm days and cool nights—perfect for late-maturing varietals such as Cabernet.”
Cliff Lede currently produces a total of 10 Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blends. While all of them are muscular enough to stand up to a steak or lamb chops in the heart of winter they are also very elegant wines that can be enjoyed anytime of year with a wide array of cuisines. Below are my notes for the three wines I tried.
2017 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District
The fruit for this Cabernet (88% Cabernet Sauvignon,5% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc) was sourced from the hillside terraces of Cliff Lede’s Poetry Vineyard, Twin Peaks Vineyard estate which surrounds the winery, and a few neighboring vineyards in the Stags Leap District. The wine is composed of small lots from their best blocks, representing a diverse range of carefully selected clones and rootstocks. This wine is also rich in soil diversity ranging from Poetry’s volcanic origins, to the ancient riverbed alluvial soils of Twin Peaks, further contributing to the wine’s complexity. Great wines are indeed “made in the vineyard.”
The 2017 Stags Leap Cabernet has vibrant aromas of crushed flowers and dark fruits (blackberry, dark cherries) intertwined with chocolate, spice box and cassis. The wine has tremendous depth and layers of flavors that build into a long opulent finish that is framed with great minerality and loamy soil that personifies the SLD terrior.
2017 Dancing Heart Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District (Rockpile Vineyard)
89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 1% Malbec. The fruit for this one is sourced from Lede’s Poetry and Twin Peaks Vineyards. The Cabernet Sauvignon is planted in shallow volcanic soil and farmed to low yields, resulting in good structure with plush tannins and tremendous concentration.
This wine announces itself a bit more on the nose than the Stag’s Leap Cabernet, wafting with a bouquet of dark berry fruits, lavender and cocoa. Wonderfully complex with minerals and slate/graphite on the finish.
2017 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District
The Poetry Vineyard, carved into a steep west-facing hillside, reaches from the highest elevations of the Stags Leap District appellation to the valley floor. This vineyard, designed by David Abreu specifically for Cabernet, draws its uniqueness from shallow, volcanic soils atop fractured shale. Due to the stressful nature of the site, planted with high vine density and farmed to very low yields, the vines develop slowly and produce small flavorful berries.
A blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot the bouquet on this one is loaded with black currants, crushed flowers, stone and cherry liquor. On the palate it has a complex medley of spices, tobacco, licorice, currant, dark cherries and even hoisin. The long finish includes cigar, dried cherries and warm slate.
“Thanksgiving wines” has become an annual piece for me. I enjoy coming up with a list of food friendly wines that pair nicely with turkey and gravy and stuffing and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole (insert traditional sides) because, quite frankly, not many do. My general rule is, don’t overthink it…and stick to white wines.
What do I mean by don’t overthink it? When you have family and friends over (though this year may be different) and you are in charge of the wines it’s perfectly normal to want to offer some different choices, including something that may not be on your guest’s radar. Albarino or Riesling for example. But do these wines really match well with turkey? Not in my book. Sometimes the obvious choice is the best. Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? Not Stonewall Jackson.
So what is the obvious choice? I always favor American Chardonnay. Why? Well, first off, because it’s American. This is our holiday after all. Yet ironically, it pairs nicely with Thanksgiving cuisine. Why do I say ironically? Because I don’t think Chardonnay pairs all that well with much. And yet it pairs well with a meal that doesn’t pair well with much. Go figure. But there are other reliable choices other than Chardonnay. Plenty in fact. Here is is my 2020 lineup:
Simply put, this is one of the best chardonnays I have tried in a long time. And being 2020, of course I tried it on a virtual wine tasting session via zoom call. A wine writer on the call made what I thought was a very astute comment about this wine, saying that it had a “lean mid-palate.” But he meant it in a complimentary way. And I knew right away what he meant. In addition to the wonderful stone fruits, lemon curd and limestone minerality that this wines exhibits, the lean mid-palate creates a sense of even-flow and gracefulness that allows the fruit to fully shine as the wine slowly unleashes all its splendor right up through the long finish. This is a wine you can certainly enjoy on its own but it is a food wine through and through. It’s California fruit meets Burgundian acidity and minerality. It’s opulent yet practices restraint. It’s a Chardonnay that people who aren’t particularly fond of Chardonnay will still like.
Ram’s Gate “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay 2018 ($70)
Usually when I think of famous vineyards in Napa and Sonoma I think of vineyards planted for Cabernet. There are many. But Chardonnay has a few too. And the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros—who’s soils its namesake Hyde family has been working since the late ’70s—is one of them. The cool Carneros winds here lead to slow and steady ripening allowing for complex and exquisite flavor development, with more of a Burgundian framework. The Ram’s Gate Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay is no exception.
A medley of the two clones—Robert Young and Musqué—produce a mineral-driven, austerely elegant chardonnay (similar to the Gary Farrell Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay in this sense) with white peach, apricot and lemon zest. Partial malolactic gives lovely texture in the mid-palate while the chalky soils drive saline and minerals on the finish.
Says winemaker Joe Nielson, “Hyde Vineyard is one of those cherished places in California where heritage, hard work and terroir come together to produce a wine that has incredible depth, richness and precision—hallmarks of not just a complex wine, but a delicious addition to your favorite meals.”
Gamble Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2019 ($28)
Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes to people’s surprise, actually thrives in Napa Valley (the chardonnay on the tasting list at a Napa Valley winery is likely from Carneros or Sonoma and not from their actual estate). Yet for a long time, it played the role of warm up wine—a palate cleanser or amuse bouche—before the featured wines. Not anymore. Across the board, vintners are no longer making Sauvignon Blanc for a little extra cash flow. They are investing it in big time—from farming, to specific clones, to barrels and concrete eggs.
One such producer is Gamble Family Vineyards. While their “Heart Block” is a benchmark for Napa Valley Sauvignon block (and commands a $95 price tag) their regular Sauvignon Blanc at a more palatable $28 is a wonderful wine, composed of four distinct Sauvignon Blanc clones:, Sauvignon Musque and 530, which originate from the Loire region, and Preston and 316, which originate from Bordeaux.
Truchard Vineyards Roussanne 2018 ($28)
This white varietal has been traditionally associated with the Northern Rhône, where it is blended with Marsanne to make white Hermitage wines. Like a lot of varietals that originated in France, it can also thrive in California, provided the right soils and microclimates are present. Carneros has exactly this, with cool (enough) temps, volcanic rock and ash soils and gently sloping vineyards—like it’s Northern Rhône brethren.
Floral aromas of pineapple, honeysuckle, and jasmine, with highlights of brioche and vanilla. The mouth is crisp, with clean flavors of fresh pear, honeydew melon, and lychee. Bright acidity provides a lengthy finish of citrus, mineral, and spice.
Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc Los Carneros 2016 ($92 1.5 L Magnum)
This one might seem like a bit of a wild card. And yes, it’s only available in 1.5L Magnum format (and .375L split) but that shouldn’t be a problem for a Thanksgiving feast. I say wildcard, because at first glance a Pinot Blanc may seem a bit light for your average Thanksgiving meal. On the contrary, Pinot Blancs from California tend to be a bit “bigger” than those from Alsace or Italy. And not everyone’s turkey lunch or dinner is dominated by heavy gravy and buttery mashed potatoes. If your Thanksgiving meal is on the lighter side, this could be a perfect match.
Truthfully, when it comes to white wine, Robert Sinskey is more known for their “Abraxas” white blend, which includes Pinot Blanc but also Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtz. I like the straight Pinot Blanc more though. It has been one of my favorite white wines from the sunshine state since I first tried it about 15 years ago.
The bouquet on this wine never disappoints. Aromas of fresh cut flowers, honeydew melon and even a little allspice jump out of the glass. Stone fruits (peach and apricot) and Meyer lemon are joined with white pepper and crème brule on the long finish—framed by great minerality.