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 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.
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.
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.
Sullivan 2020 Rosé (Merlot)—$35
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.
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.
See also: Staying put in Palm Springs
Where to Stay:
The Phoenician Resort and Spa
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
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.
Across the bridge
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.
Belmond Charleston Place ($325-$750)
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.
Red’s Ice House ($$)
Fleet Landing ($$)
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.
—Chelsey Pieretti contributed to this article.
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:
Gary Farrell “Ritchie Vineyard” Chardonnay 2017 ($60)
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.
Ah, the library bar. An urban oasis steeped in history (quite literally). Vintage, deep-seated armchairs, mahogany shelves and leather bound books ease the soul, while a single malt scotch calms the nerves after a long day of work. Ron Burgundy’s kind of place. My kind of place. Continue reading
When gangster Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo in 1946, it was the first large-scale casino-hotel project on a quiet stretch of Nevada desert. Today, Las Vegas is anything but quiet, with massive casino-hotels stationed like giant soldiers on the world-famous Strip.
The term “shoulder season” is most commonly used in the travel business, referring to a period of time between the high and low seasons of a vacation destination. In the wine world, a similar transitional period exists when the changing of the seasons can cause our preference in wine to change. Continue reading
If you read my article on Ehlers’ Rosé—made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc—then you may recall my affection for new world rosés. Yes, the classic Provence style, driven primarily by Grenache and Cinsault (Syrah and Mouvedre to a lesser degree), will likely reign supreme for a long time—both in terms of market cap and perceived authenticity (what a rosé should taste like in most people’s mind). And in the dog days of summer this style of rosé is usually what I look for too. But rosé as a segment of the wine market is unique in its sheer size and endless possibilities. Remember, you can make rosé out of almost any red varietal—from a single varietal or a blend of several. This is why the number of rosés on the shelf of your local wine merchant has probably grown over the years. They are everywhere and constantly evolving.
One varietal that has proven to work well for rosé is Pinot Noir. However—and this is key—it depends on the region. You don’t see many rosés coming out of the Côte-d’Or in Burgundy, for example. Yet this region is world famous for Pinot Noir. So why so few rosés? Rosé needs very ripe, bright fruit to achieve the kind of flavor profile that people have become accustom to—in my opinion. That’s not to say some earthiness is not also a key factor in making quality rosé. Provence has both, but it’s the warm climate in the south of France that is paramount. When I think of wine regions of the world that have the kind of soil to grow world-class Pinot Noir but also have plenty of sunshine, California and Oregon come to mind above all other regions. Particularly California.
Inman Family Wines
Established in 2000 with the planting of their Olivet Grange Vineyard in the heart of the Russian River Valley, Inman Family Wines is the result of Kathleen Inman’s love of Pinot Noir and the soil that produces it. Since her first small vintage in 2002, she has been an ardent supporter of non-interventionalist winemaking practices, ignoring the critically acclaimed riper-style and leading the movement towards more subtle, nuanced wines with a sense of place.
The 2019 Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir, OGV Estate
The 2019 Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir, OGV Estate is no exception to these practices and reflects the winery’s success with “intentional” or “direct-to-press” rosés. Some rosés are made as a by-product of red wine by bleeding off some of the juice early in the production process to create a higher ratio of skin to juice, which concentrates the resulting wine. Whereas rosés made “intentionally,” rather than simply by drawing off the free run juice, tend to have greater complexity and structure because the entire grape is used.
As you might expect this wine has flavors of a classic rosé as well as the alluring, delicate flavors of a premium Russian river Pinot Noir. Strawberries and raspberries intermingle with stone fruits (peach and apricot)—held up with great minerality. This wine is indeed a result of the “direct-to-press” approach with good complexity and layers of flavor that last a while on the finish.
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
Coronavirus has gripped our country and the world like nothing we have ever seen or could imagine. To say that vanquishing it through social distancing and other measures is the most important thing in most of our lives right now seems like a safe bet. From a philanthropic standpoint it should rightfully be a priority for most who can afford to give. But there are other causes that still need our attention even in the deepest depths of the coronavirus pandemic. One of these causes is Autism awareness. April, after all, is Autism awareness month.
Frank Family Vineyards, founded in 1992 by former Disney Studios president Rich Frank—and one of my favorite wineries in Napa Valley—is a champion of this cause. Throughout the month of April, the winery will donate 15% of all proceeds from direct sales of its 2018 Carneros Chardonnay ($38) as well as from “Frank for a Cause” packages ($55) featuring a limited-edition blue t-shirt and bottle of Chardonnay. Autism Speaks is the nation’s largest autism advocacy organization and this donation will help fund the organization’s vital programs that increase global understanding, advance breakthroughs in autism research, expand early childhood screening and improve transition to adulthood. Those interested in supporting the cause may do so via the Frank Family Vineyards website.
“The outbreak of the coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact on the world, with the fast-changing environment requiring navigation through uncertain times. During a time like this, we want to make sure non-profit organizations are not overlooked and are therefore continuing with our plan to support Autism Speaks during the month of April,” says Rich Frank.
The inspiration behind Frank Family’s 2020 fundraising campaign is Jennifer Higgins, who has been a vital part of the Frank Family team as Retail Operations Administrative Assistant for the past 12 years.
She graciously shared her family’s experience with Autism: “Every parent stresses out and worries about their kids. For us, our concerns are just different. We love our son Owen for all that he is and want to see a world where people with autism can discover their true potential,” she says. “I hope this campaign, along with all the work this charity does throughout the year, helps to create a kinder, more inclusive world.”
This year Autism Speaks is celebrating its 15th anniversary as an organization and will be launching a commitment to make 2020 the “Year of Kindness.” The goal of the “Year of Kindness” is to make both the online and offline worlds kinder while increasing acceptance of individuals with autism and their families. Since the organization’s founding in 2005, its core mission remains the same: to enhance lives today and accelerate a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.
“We have an amazing community of wine buyers at Frank Family, many of whom have supported our fundraising campaigns in the past. Through our “Frank Fights Hunger” campaign last November, we were able to raise $20,000 for Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization,” says Leslie Frank. “We’re grateful that our winery’s ethos of giving back has been embraced by our customers. We look forward to raising funds for Autism Speaks this April.”
Supporters of Frank Family’s April campaign on social media should use #FrankForACause.
How do you make a million dollars in the wine business? You start with five million. That’s an old saying in the wine business—and probably a dozen other businesses that people dream of making a living in (the restaurant and hospitality businesses to name a couple). Continue reading
A resurgence of the “classics” continues to percolate through US cocktail lounges and I am fully onboard with this trend. Continue reading
Like a lot of people who enjoy a glass of rosé as the weather warms, I like the classic style that the Provence region of southern France is known for—light salmon color, dry, with a slight earthiness. That’s not to say, however, that the wine has to be from Provence in order to achieve this style. Put a bottle of Wollfer Estate (Eastern Long Island, NY) in a blind tasting line-up and you’ll likely fool some people who might peg it for Provence or Bandol in the south of France. Regardless of its origins, this style of rosé is very quaffable, very popular and very available. And for years this has been my default style. But rosés, which can be made from almost any red grape varietal, come in a lot of different styles. So why not branch out.
I recently tried Ehlers Estate’s Napa Valley Rosé (“Sylviane”) made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc and was pleasantly surprised. While a number of Napa wineries do a rosé, most are merely a fun experiment. A warm-up wine to include in the tasting line-up for people visiting the winery. After all, Napa Valley does not exactly lend itself to rosé, at least not from a traditional standpoint. In my article, “The Real Rosé Season Starts Now” I highlighted a couple of California rosés that I love—Beckman’s Grenache Rosé and Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris De Cigare. The former is 100% Grenache and the latter is a blend, comprised (typically) of Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Carignan, Cinsault and Mouvedre. Notice a pattern here? Both of them use Rhone varietals (which are also prevalent in Provence to the south), mimicking the French style. And both are delicious. But that doesn’t mean wineries in Napa Valley most follow this script. After all, these varietals do not exactly thrive in Napa Valley. Beckman and Bonny Doon are both in the central coast. Napa vintners can certainly grow varietals like Grenache with decent quality and they do. But is that something they really want to put much effort towards? My guess is no, which is why you see many of them, like Ehlers, using what they already have—Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Why mess around with Rhone varietals when you have some of the best Cab and Cab Franc in the valley?
Tasting Notes: The juice of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc lots were fermented in stainless steel drums and once-used barrels. The first thing I noticed is that the wine was not quite as acid driven as the traditional roses I have talked about, yet it had more structure with mellower tannins and more body. According to the winemaker, the fermentation went very slowly and the used oak allowed for the development of a beautiful creamy texture in the wine, which I would say is dead on. Bright aromas of raspberries and strawberries, melon, vanilla beans and white peach fill the glass. This rose will certainly refresh you on a hot day but, because of the softer tannins and more muscular body, can also be enjoyed year-round.
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
This has become an annual column for me and one I really enjoy writing. I find this food and wine pairing fun to write about because it can be a challenge. Yes, old man winter’s wrath may queue the obligatory Bordeaux or Cabernet from many an oenophile’s wine cellar, but not necessarily on the fourth Thursday in November with turkey and gravy or in late December with a Christmas Ham. Nor do these muscular reds ingratiate themselves with any particular harmony with those potato latkes during the 8 days of Hanukah. Indeed, the various cuisines that we celebrate with during the final month and a half of the year are not necessarily a great match with the wines we might otherwise think to drink this time of year. To be fair, not a lot of wines, in my opinion, are an obvious match with turkey and gravy. But I’ll try.
2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River, ($25)
From acclaimed winemaker David Ramey, Sidebar is the only winery to make a 100% Kerner wine in California. Kerner, an aromatic cross between Riesling and Trollinger (known as Schiava in Italy), with origins in Germany, shows well in this dry, aromatic and acidic bottling—an ideal white wine for offsetting heavy meals.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2016 Eroica Riesling ($22)
Riesling is one of the most misunderstood wines out there, often thought to be overly sweet. The fact is, Riesling can be sweet but also bone dry. Offering sweet lime and mandarin orange aromas, this CSM Riesling is more in the middle and could match with a variety of foods. It will pair with your turkey and gravy but also with those sweet potatoes.
2018 FEL Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley ($25)
FEL, a second label from Cliff Lede Vineyards—one of my favorite Napa wineries—produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast. A blend of fruit from three different vineyards (Wiley, Hein and Klindt) located in the “Deep End” of Anderson valley near the town of Navarro, this wine is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean allowing for bright citrus flavors and refreshing acidity. Pinot Gris, if done right with plenty of acid (some can be flabby), can be a great match with myriad cuisines from Thai to Indian to oysters on the half shell.
2016 Inman OGV Estate Pinot Noir ($70)
Kathleen Inman made her name in wine at the Inman estate, the 10.45- acre Olivet Grange Vineyard (OGV) located in the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. The site was planted by Kathleen in 2000 and has always been farmed organically to encourage a healthy ecosystem and soils. The OGV Pinot Noir is complex, with great aromatics. The wine’s bright red fruits—strawberries and red cherries—and complex savory components reflect the full depth and nuances of the vineyard. California Pinot Noir is a no-brainer with your Thanksgiving feast—it’s fruit forwardness a better match with all those flavors than Burgundy in my opinion. Just make sure you get one that is balanced with plenty of earthiness (terroir) to keep the fruit in check. The Inman Pinot Noirs do this in spades.
2016 Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Tascante Contrada Rampante Etna Rosso DOC ($50)
If you read my article “A Winemaking Renaissance in Sicily” then you know how fond I am of Sicilian wines these days. I think they represent a value in terms of price-to-quality that is hard to match on a world stage. The vineyards of Contrada Rampante are characterized by volcanic formations of different lithological characterization but belonging to the same time period as Contrada Pianodario (between 15,000 and 4,000 thousand years). Rampante, one of the four Contrade in which Tasca d’Almerita works, is located at an average elevation of 740 meters a.s.l., between the communes of Passopisciaro and Randazzo. This is as food-friendly of a wine as I have had in some time. Bright red fruits, spice and an earthiness almost reminiscent of a classic French Burgundy are in abundance, framed with sharp acidity that keeps everything in check throughout its long finish. This wine would go great with richer pasta dishes, like pappardelle with bolognese but because of it’s lighter body can easily work with Thanksgiving turkey, gravy and all the fixins.
2018 Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Capofaro “Didyme” Salina IGT ($26)
Sicily, like mainland Italy, does not get enough recognition for their white wines, sans Pinot Grigio which is almost too popular and takes too much of the spotlight. The fact is Italy has a ton of white varietals, many of which are wonderful food wines. The Malvasia fruit for the Didyme is harvested at the ideal stage of ripeness and immediately vinified. The result is a dry and savory wine with good acidity. Didyme shows notes of aromatic and floral herbs, which recall the Mediterranean characteristics of the Island. The wine is named Didyme, the ancient name for the island of Salina, because it captures the essence of the island’s terroir. So often we talk about terroir in red wines but whites have it in equal amounts and I love a white wine that has equal amounts fruit and terroir and plenty of each.
Chateau Des Jacques Moulin a Vent (Louis Jadot) 2016 ($27)
Depending on your level of wine interest, you’ve either never heard of Gamay or you’re tired of hearing about it—particularly in reference to it being the perfect Thanksgiving wine. Then add in the common confusion (mainly among Americans) that surrounds Beaujolais—namely it being grouped together with the folksy Beaujolais Nouveau wine that is released the third Thursday of every November—and Gamay can be a bit confusing. But there is no denying it is an elegant, highly versatile wine, if you pick the right producer. It also happens to be a favorite choice among sommeliers—however much that counts for you. I’ve gone with Louis Jadot here because its extremely consistent, highly available and in general a classic example of the Gamay grape. This Beaujolais offers a fleshy texture and greater longevity than any other Beaujolais cru. Its exceptional structure supports vivid red fruit aromas and crushed flowers with good minerality.
Alban Central Coast Viognier 2018 ($30)
Alban Vineyards makes what many consider to be the best Viognier in California. As one of the original Rhone-style wineries in the United States, Alban has helped to bring Viognier out of obscurity, claiming its rightful place in the American wine drinker’s lexicon. This white Rhone varietal is full-bodied, fresh tasting, with nice balance, depth and concentrated flavors. Remembered for its complex aromas hinting of apricot and peaches, this wine is just the right amount of floral with low to moderate acidity. Their cool climate location and use of malolactic fermentation helps to counteract the high acidity, high alcohol and over-luxuriant flavors that Viogniers tend to be chastised for. The 2018 J Rickards Viognier ($28) from the lower Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma is another fine choice.
Tensley Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah 2018 ($45)
Tensley describes the 2018 vintage as a cool one that “gave the grapes plenty of time to hang on the vine to develop flavor and texture.” I would agree. It’s a great example of cool climate Syrah and my preferred style. Warmer climate Syrahs from places like Napa and Lake County can sometimes be overripe, too high in alcohol and lack balance. Not the Tensley Syrahs. The Tensley Colson Canyon delivers the up-front fruit you would expect in a California Syrah along with spicy, meaty, and peppery qualities that beautifully balance it out. Also of note, if you’re into scores. Their 2017 Colson Canyon scored 95 points with Wine Spectator and made #14 on its Top 100 List. The 2018 could be better though!
Mi Sueno Chardonnay, Los Carneros 2017 ($42)
Chardonnay is a classic pairing with the typical Thanksgiving meal. The key is finding the right style of Chardonnay. Turkey may not be known for its wine pairing ability but there is plenty of richness in a Thanksgiving smorgasbord—from the gravy to the buttery mashed potatoes to the stuffing and all the flavors it absorbs. Therefore I like to go with a full-bodied Chardonnay but one that is still Burgundian in nature. Mi Sueno’s Los Carneros Chardonnay achieves this balance. Their Chardonnay also owes some of its rich elegance to a wild yeast fermentation, and 18 months of aging in 30% new French oak. This stirring of the lees and a secondary 100% malolactic fermentation lends a plush texture to the wine. A platinum-hued color begins the experience and follows with aromas of guava, white peach, lemon zest and wet stone. The flavor echoes the nose and reveals additional flavors of pineapple, lemon custard and green apple delivered with a mouthwatering, bright acidity.
I also like the Mi Sueno story. Husband and wife team Lorena and Rolando Herrera started the winery in 1997 as a side project while Rolando was assistant winemaker at Chateau Potelle. The brand represents the couple’s love story as well as the culmination of Rolando’s journey from being an immigrant dishwasher at Auberge du Soleil to his becoming director for Paul Hobbs Winery and eventually winemaker more than a decade later, before giving 100% of his time to his own winery.
The 2018 Pfendler Vineyard Chardonnay ($42) is another example of a full bodied California Chardonnay with a Burgundian backbone. Lemon curd, nectarine and crème brule on the nose, and framed by good minerality, it’s a great example of Petaluma Gap (Sonoma) Chardonnay—one of my favorite regions.
Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG ($50)
Amarone della Valpolicella—the most prestigious red wine of the Veneto region in Italy—might seem a little too muscular for turkey and stuffing but I think it can be a match made in heaven (especially with all the other side dishes) if it’s a well balanced Amarone from a good producer. The four brothers who started Tenuta Sant’Antonio dedicate their primary Amarone to their father, Antonio Castagnedi. The best grapes from different vineyards are selected for this wine and are brought to the winery’s drying room to undergo the appassimento process. After at least 3 months of drying, the grapes have shriveled and lost much of their water, while retaining their sugar, flavor, and other components. Once fermented and aged in new barrels, the Amarone is a powerful wine, yet fruity, fresh, and clean.
“Amarone is a wonderful complement to Thanksgiving meals because it will hold its own against the many flavors at the dinner table,” says Armando Castagnedi of Tenuta Sant’ Antonio. I agree. And once the meal is over it is the perfect wine to retire to the couch with and watch a little football.
It’s easy to crave simple and refreshing white wines in the summertime as the mercury rises. In fact, I am all about crisp, clean and refreshing wines this time of year—especially as a cocktail or apéritif before dinner. There is nothing like that $15 bottle of Sancerre that you discover at your local wine shop and stockpile, by the case, for the rest of the summer. But then there are times when you want something a little more complex Continue reading