Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Wines Direct

You may have noticed the new banner on the left for My Wines Direct.. We all have to pay the bills and I'm trying to do it mostly with ads that interest me and I believe will be of interest to my readers.  Like me, My Wines Direct is trying to find great wines in out of the ordinary places.  They sample wines from all over the world and try to bring the best of the inexpensive to you.  They are also trying to build a community of wine lovers through forums and newsletters so I urge you to check them out. If you do so before June 30th, you can enjoy this new customer discount for $10 off and FREE Shipping with coupon code AFFNC0610.
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Caesars Empire of Food, Spirits and Fun

My day started as I wish it would every day, with a four-handed massage at Immersion Spa at Borgata’s Water Club.

Peggy and Nancy massaged away any bit of tension that was left in my body and I soon forgot that I was going on four hours of sleep. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to take full advantage of the spa’s facilities, which include a fitness center, whirlpool, steam bath for each sex and a co-ed pool with awesome views of Atlantic City and food service in comfortable lounge chairs.  There was just too much more of Atlantic City to see.

I bid farewell to my room at Borgata with some photos of the view (above) before heading over to Caesars. The only complaint of the voyage so far was the trip between hotels. Though it was only 2-3 miles, it took over an hour to complete with parking. It appears that everyone in Atlantic City checks in or out on Sunday afternoons. I waited 30 minutes to get my car and 20 minutes to park it at the next hotel.

The parking situation was forgotten as I quickly checked in to my Centurion Tower room at Caesars, the Roman emperor who is ever present in statues throughout the hotel.  I was once again welcomed by a great room with a modern bathroom that even had a television displaying on the mirror!

The plan was to go over to Harrah’s (a sister property of Caesars), but getting on the road again didn’t seem overly appealing. I instead went over the The Pier Shops at Caesars and had the short rib sliders at Trinity, an Irish Pub. They hit the spot and I enjoyed my chat with Anthony, who told me about the extensive beer and whisky menu.

I couldn’t resist spending a bit of time at the Atlantic City Outlets (especially when I spotted Eddie Bauer, recently closed in my neighborhood), located right in front of the Caesars hotel, but it’s the casino that gets the money in Atlantic City and I obliged with a “donation” to the Caesars slots before dressing for dinner.

My dining choices were limited by some Monday closures. There’s still plenty to eat without walking far from this area. The weather was still a bit gloomy so I did the inside walk over to Bally’s for a pre-dinner drink at the Blue Martini. It wasn’t easy settling – with a selection that included Tiramisu and Caramel Apple. I was told Almond Joy was one of the most popular and ordered one to be placed in front of me on the ice bar. It didn’t need to stay cool for long before I drank the dessert-like combination of Absolute Vodka, Cruzan Coconut Rum and Godiva Dark Chocolate in a chocolate rimmed glass.

Before heading up to dinner at Arturo’s, I gave $20 to the Blue Martini slot machines while I digested my Almond Joy in preparation for another meal. It was then a mouth-watering wild mushroom and leek soup, followed by a veal Marsala, with a glass of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio (after all, it was an Italian restaurant). The tomato polenta was excellent and the veal tender, though I thought there were a bit too many mushrooms. I passed the dessert menu at Arturo’s and headed next door to Wild Wild West, where the Mountain Bar is the home of the 24 hour happy hour , which includes beers, mixed drinks, shooters and the Vixens, who dance the bars Coyote Ugly style.

It was an early night for me that ended with a trip to a popular new spot between Bally's and Caesars. You won’t find any wine or spirits here, but I strongly recommend Gelati at Rita’s Ice, a favorite when I lived in New York.  This layered treat of Italian ice and frozen custard is best with the chocolate ice and vanilla custard. It was a good thing I went to bed full since I discovered that early breakfast and Atlantic City do not go hand in hand. Fortunately, there was an egg white omelet and pineapple from Caesars room service to help me get ready for my long day of travel. After a visit to their spa, of course.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Borgata Starts Atlantic City Celebration

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Atlantic City and there couldn’t have been a better way to get reacquainted than a celebration of a friend’s birthday hosted at The Borgata, with a little Caesar’s Sex and the City partying sprinkled in.

Gail and I have been friends for more years than I care to mention and she was celebrating a milestone birthday of which she doesn’t care to mention.   We gathered on the Jersey Shore with her family at The Water Club Hotel in Atlantic City.  I had been to the Borgata years ago after its renovation and it had always impressed me with its modernly elegant style.   The Water Club is a magnified extension of that classiness, as only the Borgata can do it.  The rooms are large and contemporary, with extra features like flat screen TVs and large enclosed showers.  As nice as they were, however, we were not about to spend much time in our rooms.

Dinner was at Fornelletto, an eclectic combination of Northern and Southern Italy.  After a long day of flying and driving I thought I would get a little extra energy with the Espresso Martini and I wasn’t disappointed in the taste or the awakening.  We started the meal with a selection of appetizers.  All were tasty, but I especially recommend sampling the Mozzarella Di Bufala, delicious fresh mozzarella accompanied with your choice of items like Avocado and Moroccan Lemon, Sicilian Fig and Tapenade or Eggplant Caponata.  Our table had an assortment of entrees that were all good, but mine seemed to be the biggest hit --  Fazzoletti, a crepe like pasta filled with fontina cheese and topped with asparagus.

After dinner our party split up between the Dennis Leary “Rescue Me” show at the Borgata and the Sex and the City Party at Caesar’s Dusk.  I went with the birthday girl and her sister to the latter and wasn’t disappointed in the club or the company.  Hosting the party was Gilles Marini.  Whether you know him from Dancing with the Stars, Brothers and Sisters or the first Sex and the City movie as Samantha’s sexy showering neighbor, if you’ve seen him you aren’t soon to forget him.   He was a gracious host and we definitely enjoyed our visit with Gilles. 

Dusk was also an experience not to forget.  I was able to tour Caesar’s newest club while it was quiet and experience it when the crowd came in.  It is quite impressive from the well-equipped and super modern bathroom (that they designed to never have a line, and succeeded) to the spectacular lighting and seating (I LOVE the “pocketbook draws” so you can dance without worrying about your belongings).  You can even go from Dusk to Dawn, the quieter downstairs area that leads directly to an outdoor patio on the boardwalk.

One club is never enough for a birthday celebration so it was back to Borgata to check out their offerings.   The nightlife at Borgata is so popular it has its own website so I did my best to check out as much as possible.  First up was mur.mur, where Samantha Ronson, even more well known  for her spinning talent than her escapades with Lindsay Lohan.   Though I was initially worried that we’d be uncomfortable in a room full of 20 somethings, the music mix from Neil Diamond to Foreigner to Hip Hop made all ages feel at home, but we still had another club to check out.

Mixx is more of a high-energy dance club and certainly bigger than mur.mur.  It was there we danced for hours.  Upstairs there is more seating and VIP areas, where we met up with one of many bachelor party groups who enjoy the Borgata nightlife and watched the massive crowd partying below until it was near dawn.

My Atlantic City fun is far from over.  I’ve had my carb load – Borgata's blueberry stuffed French toast is yummy – and I’m off in a little while to check out The Water Club's Immersion Spa  for some wind down time before I head over to Caesar’s to stay at their hotel, and see some more of their nightlife options.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oliver Winery Fits in Bloomington with a bit of Everything

Bloomington is known as a popular college town that houses the University of Indiana. It’s also the home of Indiana’s largest winery and I had the pleasure of visiting Oliver Winery on my trip there.

Oliver Winery certainly deserves its label as the state’s largest. It’s a place with many personalities that show through in more than 40 wines. Here you will find the ordinary and the extraordinary in a rare combination of home grown and home blended.

From the moment you step into the shop/tasting room at Oliver you know this is something different. The store is filled with unusual sauces, dips, chocolates, jellies and cheeses that all of one thing in common – they come from the Midwest. As tempting as it was to walk away with a sauce called Mediterranean Pinot Grigio from Ohio, Crazy Charlie’s Salsa from Indiana and Zzans Chocolate from Michigan, I remembered that I was there to check out the wine.

There are two personalities to Oliver Winery. The first is in its namesake, a collection of wine blended from grapes found in vineyards in the top regions of the United States, including the Pacific Northwest, Finger Lakes and Napa. The creation of Bill and Kathleen Oliver came about in the 1970s and has produced many award-winning wines, but it was missing a component – wine from grapes grown on their own vineyard.

The small collection of grapes on the property just wasn’t enough to do this. In 1994, the Olivers began another faucet of their wine production, Creekbend. The Creekbend Vineyard is located in Monroe County of Indiana and the Creekbend wine brand is made 100% from grapes grown in that vineyard. The family has managed to produce quite a selection of grapes, giving them the most diverse collection of wines I’ve seen in the Midwest from a popular Soft White at $7.50 a bottle to the $70.00 Creekbend Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the pleasure of a private tour, but free tours and tastings are available for everyone. My tour took me through the warehouses and production, where I saw the state of the art equipment and ever-expanding buildings. I also got to taste lots of wine and was quite pleased with what there was. The sparkling Creekbend Vidal Blanc Sparkling was one of the lightest bubblies I’ve had. It was very different from the dry Creekbend Valvin Muscat , which was steel-aged. We next had the Gewürztraminer, with a bit more spice than the usual. It was very different from the light and sweet Traminette, made from Indiana’s state grape by the same name.

We continued on the “sweet trail,” but I was treated to some unexpected flavors. The Watermelon tasted a bit like a Jolly Rancher. It was very sweet straight, though it might work well in a spritzer or even a slushy. Oliver also bottles their own Sangria. This perfect summer treat (just add a bit of fresh fruit and they’ll think you made it yourself) was not overly sweet. On the total other end of the spectrum was the 2007 Cabernet. There were only 130 cases of this made and it is a gem that’s oaky and rich.

Of course, I couldn’t make it through every Oliver and Creekbend wine, but a few more tastes I had worth noting are: Creekbend Pinot Grigio, dry with strong grapefruit undertones; the Creekbend Late Harvest Vignoles, as sweet and satisfying as an ice wine; and Valdiguie, one of the lightest reds I’ve tasted, with just a hint of spice. I also have to add that the two most inexpensive wines – Soft White and Soft Red – are what you want your restaurant house wine to be.

It’s definitely worth a trip to join the two to three thousand weekend visitors to Oliver Winery.  Since it’s a college area there’s no shortage of accommodations. I stayed at A Summerhouse Inn, a reasonable motel in a good location with refrigerators and microwaves in the room and a pool on the premises.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sex and the City 2 Inspires Cocktails

The movie hasn’t even come out yet and the celebrating has already begun.  Parties on both coasts are celebrating the excitement and independence of one of entertainment’s most famous quartets.

Since traveling and drinking were always a part of the Sex and the City mantra, it’s no wonder that it’s inspired some drinks Carrie and Big would be found of. You can find “Sips and the City 2” at your local Houlihan’s for the entire month of May.   Check out these SKYY Vodka and Moët Chandon induced creations:

Red over Heels
SKYY Infusions Grape Vodka
Lemon Juice
Ménage á  Trois Red Wine

Blonde Ambition
SKYY Infusions Ginger Vodka
Honey Syrup
Lemon Juice

Park Avenue Princess
Moët Chandon Imperial Champagne
Marashino Cherry Liquer

Fizz & Tell
X Rated Liqueur
Navan Liqueur
Moët Chandon Imperial Champagne

The properties of MGM Mirage in Las Vegas – ARIA, Bellagia, Vdara, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, Luxor, New York-New York, Excalibur and Circus Circus - also joined with SKYY Vodka for a month long liquid celebration of Sex and the City 2.   Their cocktails not only sound delicious, but purchasing them will go toward a donation to the Nevada Cancer Institute.  At the participating bars you will find the following in addition to the cocktails above:

Glamour Gal
Sky Vodka
Lemon Juice
Lime Juice
Simple Syrup
Drop of Crème de Cassis

Mr. Manhattan
SKYY Infusions Cherry Vodka
Wild Turkey 101

Cocktail photos of "Red over Heels," "Park Avenue Princess" and "Mr. Manhattan" courtesy of SKYY Vodka.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Welcome Back -- to me!

I've had a tough time in the last six weeks with the balancing act we call life.  Unfortunately, this blog -- which got off to a great start -- has suffered.  I'm happy to report that I've finally got everything under control and am currently working on a number of stories that will regularly appear.  So, welcome me back into your internet world and come visit at least twice a week because that's when I've committed to being reporting what's new, exciting, delicious or unusual in the world of Wine And Spirits Travel.  I'll be doing lots of traveling in the next few months near and far.  And, to make sure you don't miss anything, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter>

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spirited Travels Worth Checking Out

My inbox fills up fast with interesting wine, spirits and travel ideas. I can’t even begin to check them all out personally, but some definitely look worth passing along. I’ve decided to make this a monthly column. I’ll clear out my inbox while giving my readers some ideas to plan for the weeks ahead.

Italy and wine, there’s no doubt that the two go together and you don’t have to twist my arm to get interested in a tour that involves both. Hallmark Travels is offering a weeklong Puglia Wine Tour that looks like it would quench anyone’s thirst. It includes visits to six wine makers with tours of the cellars and visits with vineyard experts before tastings with local foods. Hallmark even offers a video sneak peak on their website to get you ready to say “Ciao.”

It may be the last pairing you’d expect to hear about from Moet Hennessy’s Director of Communications, but Jeffrey Pogash let me in on an event that he was most proud of. The Hot Dog Lore brought together America’s ballpark staple with – champagne! Though the event (which included pairings like a Beans and Frank Dog with Dom Perignon) is over, Bark Hot Dogs in Brooklyn, New York’s Park Slope district is keeping bubbly on the menu, as well as wine and beer.

Another combination you may think of as unusual is Ohio and wine , but this Midwest state is taking the wine business serious. I honestly have not made it there yet (it’s definitely something I’m doing in the near future), but who can resist a try when they pair the wine with chocolate? The Panache Wine Trail featuring Bakers Chocolate is just one of the events coming up through the Ohio Wine Producers Association

The tour is a self driving tour of the wineries in northwest Ohio. Beginning on May 14th, you have two weekends to visit all the wineries participating on the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Wine Trails. In addition to sampling wines, you’ll enjoy appetizers and collect luscious Baker's chocolates. You will also receive a Schott Zwiesel crystal wine glass and a candy dish at one of the wineries. The cost is only $45 per couple or $35 per single. Call 1-800-713-7779 or visit the Baker's Candies site for more information.

Photos courtesy of Hallmark Travels.

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