Sunday, October 31, 2010

Salon Millesime Completes the Carlton Experience in New York

When I was in New York City recently I had the pleasure of staying at The Carlton Hotel and visiting the new Salon Millesime.  It was a too short visit, but enough to make me want to come back.

I pulled up to
The Carlton
and gave my name to the valet only to get the instant reply, “We’ve been waiting for you Ms. Frost.”  There’s no doubt that The Carlton is that kind of luxury, but it’s transitioned nicely into the 21st century.  The lobby is has been transformed with a modern flare and the rooms are also contemporary, with the convenience of free high speed internet and the luxury of flat screen televisions and Molton Brown toiletries.  There’s a 24 hour fitness center on the premises so you don’t have to venture out to Madison Avenue unless you want to.

Salon Millesime is downstairs at The Carlton Hotel and it’s one of the most unusual spots to hit Manhattan in awhile.  The earth tones are warm and welcoming and the atmosphere seems to take you back to a neighborhood of long ago, when you could hear the local jazz player, listen to the piano and have a few quiet drinks with friends.  The menu was just getting started with small plates when I was there (Owner/Chef Laurent Manrique has now opened a seafood brasserie up the stairs), but there were more than enough unique and tasty choices to satisfy anyone.

All the food was great, as it should be when supervised by a Michelin Star chef.  Don’t miss the Pork Belly Lollipops,  Meatballs, Tuna Tartare and Flat Bread, but make sure you leave room for dessert.   The Pot De Crème with espresso and caramel was yummy and the Profiteroles with ice cream on the spot.  The drink menu is filled with whisky, cognac  and old standards, but be adventurous and try one of their specialties, like the signature Night & Day.

There is live entertainment at Salon Millesime nightly.  You can check their current schedule on the website.  As for
The Carlton
, it may be New York City luxury, but they offer some great packages – especially for the holiday season.  Check them out next time you are in Manhattan.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Farewell to France

I didn’t want to put a damper on my wonderful trip through Burgundy and Champagne, but there were a couple of glitches because of the strikes in France.  This was mostly apparent as we prepared to head home.  For the first time since I began to drive, there were long lines at gas stations and many were closed all together.  The trains were running sporadically and we never got to use Rail Europe at all.   

In order to get back to Paris on the final day, we had to leave the hotel in Bourgogne at 3:30 am.  Veronique of Burgundy Tourism generously got up and drove us the three and a half hours to Charles De Gaulle Airport.  The lines were long and we were, understandably tired, but my Air France flight took off on time and I had a pleasant trip home.

I want to thank those who made this trip possible and are available to anyone who would like to do a similar trip, French Tourism and the tourist boards of Champagne-Ardenne (Sarah was especially helpful) and Burgundy, as well as my fellow writers, Donna, Jesus, Patty, Peter.  The photo below was taken of everyone on our final night with Chef Patrick Bertron of Bernard Louiseau.

In case you missed any of my journey, here are the links from the  first day to last…

From Champaign to Champagne-The Full Day One

From Cathedral to Krug in Reims, France

Discovering More Champagne in Hautvillers and Epernay

Last Day in Champagne-Robots & Bars in the Trees

Introduction to the Burgundy Region

Medieval Castles & Luxury Hotels in Burgundy

Filling the Final Day in Burgundy

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Filling the Final Day in Burgundy

The final day in Burgundy wasn’t exactly how it was supposed to be.  The cold weather and rain did not ease up and our plan to bicycle around the canal needed to be scrapped.  But the day was still filled with new adventures, thanks to our friends, Anna from the French Tourist Board and Veronique from Burgundy Tourism.

Our first stop of the day was at the castle of Ancy le Franc.  Honestly, my initial response was, “another castle?”  but I have to admit that every one we have seen has had a personality of its own.  This one in Ancy le Franc was beautiful and was set up more like a museum than a castle, with endless artwork and detail to the architecture.  It had its own private chapel and royal apartments. 

Despite the fact that this castle is very much in France, its influence is very Italian.  It was first built in the 16th century and received some additional renovations – like a new library and a dining room with Italian marble walls – in the 19th century.  The grounds, however, were maintained to 21st century standards and were just perfectly cropped.

After the castle of Ancy le Franc we stayed in the town of Noyers sur Surein for our final long, leisurely lunch in France.  Les Millesimes was added to the list of restaurants we sat and enjoyed French cooking, which often includes tender beef and always includes great wine and cheese.  We walked around the town a bit after we ate.   There wasn’t a lot open since spring and summer are really the seasons for activity here, but I enjoyed my final walk on the cobblestone streets of a picturesque village.

Our afternoon was at the Abbey de Fontenay, one of the oldest abbeys in Europe, dating back to the 12th century.  A member of the family who presently owns the land took us through the brightly landscaped buildings.  His great grandfather bought and restored it after the previous owner had turned it into a factory.  It is now the only privately owned World Heritage Monument in France.  Despite the fact that the buildings have all been kept up, it is only used for services once a year, on the abbey’s anniversary.

On our way to the Bernard Louiseau in Bourgogne, we saw one of the most memorable sites of the trip.  It was two full, rainbows that appeared to follow us for miles.  We finally stopped the car to photograph it.  I had never seen even one rainbow so bold and beautiful and certainly have never seen a rainbow over a castle. It seemed to last even after we were gone and was truly a proper goodbye to our sightseeing days in France.

Bernard Loiseau was a brilliant chef and owner of the hotel and restaurant that bear his name.  His tragic death in 2003 left his wife in charge and she has helped the hotel to thrive.  It has earned a five star rating and the restaurant, under the guidance of Chef Patrick Bertron, has earned three stars from Michelin.  The rooms here are wonderful, I especially appreciated the special touches, like fireplaces in the rooms and large patios outside them. 

The meal couldn’t have been any better, filled with foie gras, clay-cooked beef and a terrain of mushrooms, perfectly paired with wine, including one of my favorites of the trip, a 2008 Albert Bichot Savigny-les-Beaune, a light and fruity chardonnay.  The evening was topped off with, of course, a well-crafted and delicious chocolate dessert and then it was off to a few hours of sleep for the final time in Burgundy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Medieval Castles & Luxury Hotels in Burgundy

I thought I had seen it all when – on my last day in the Champagne region --  we visited talking robots and a Champagne Bar in the trees, but there was something even more unusual to see and it is called Guedelon.

Burgundy is filled with castles, but none like Guedelon.  The weather continued to be cold and there seemed to be a bit of rain following us.   This mud-producing climate wasn’t exactly what you wanted when you were visiting a construction site and that’s exactly what Guedelon was, only this site was missing your usual tractors, electrical equipment and safety nets.  This was a construction site for a castle, more specifically, a castle built in the 13th century.

The Guedelon project began in 1995 when Michel Guyot, who already owned a castle in Yonn, had the idea to build this one in Treigny the same way the Medieval workers did it.  He banished anything that wasn’t used in the 13th century and spent two years gathering the support and permits from France.  He even received some funding from other European countries. 

The actual construction began in 1997 and the castle expected to finish in 2025.  It has become a popular attraction for school groups who spend the day and learn all the details that went into building a castle hundreds of years ago, from creating tiles (which they let our group do) to making nails.

Guedelon Castle is a fascinating site.  One of the requirements of the workers is that they must participate in more than the building, they are to be teachers of the project.  According to our guide, Sarah, everyone going through Guedelon (there were 300,000 visitors in 2009) may ask questions of the workers in an attempt to improve the interaction and knowledge.  Many are fluent in more than just French, which is good since they receive visitors from throughout Europe and the United States.

While at Guedelon, we had a typical Medieval lunch of a stew made of chicken, ham, sausage and vegetables before hitting the road for the quaint village of Vezelay.  Unfortunately, the rain would follow us through the streets of the town and the Basilica, a UNESCO place.  I warmed up a bit with a cup of coffee inside the rather elegant Hotel Poste et Lion d'Or before Veronique from Burgundy Tourism escorted me back to the group and off to Joigny.

I have to admit, I was ready for five-star luxury and La Cote Saint Jacques in Joigny was just the ticket.  Don’t get me wrong, we have stayed in nothing but beautiful places through Champagne-Ardenne and Burgundy, but my trip called for nine hotels in nine nights and I was dreaming about an elevator and a bellman.  I got that and more at La Cote Saint Jacques, where I couldn’t decide if the word incredible was more suiting to the view outside my room (above) or the 10-course meal at the three Michelin Star Jean Michel Lorain Restaurant. 

The food at Jean Michel Lorain included my first experience with White Truffles – which I hope won’t be my last – and two pieces of chocolate heaven (right).  I even got a little sleep in preparation for our final day in France, which included staying at another luxury hotel, eating at another three Michelin Star restaurant, and drinking lots more burgundy wine.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Introduction to the Burgundy Region

Day four in France was jam-packed with excitement as we had our final Champagne visit and headed into a totally new region – Burgundy.

We came to Troyes (pronounced “Twa”)  the previous night for our dinner and stay at Le Maison de Rhodes, but didn’t have any time to explore.  We made up for it with a tour through one of my favorite places yet. This charming city appears to have all the food, shopping and architectural aspects of every major city in Europe all rolled into one. 

Within a short two hour drive (or 1-1/2 hour train ride) from Paris, you can reach Troyes for a day at the famous outlet malls or a visit to the village.  The combination of strolling past James Joyce’s Pub, Medieval cathedrals and an H&M Department store was fascinating.  It was a place I wished I could stay in for days instead of a few short hours, but we had so much more to do.

After the tour of Troyes, it was time to officially leave the Champagne region and drive to Chablis.  During the hour drive we could see the scenery change a bit as rolling hills replaced the flatter land and the cows (which I would later learned were Charolais, unique to this area) would turn all white.   We arrived in Chablis in time for our farewell lunch at La Feuillette with Sarah, who had guided us with perfect detail through the Champagne-Ardienne Region.  We were greeted by Veronique of Burgundy Tourism and her enthusiasm for the region she grew up in.

In the 1970s, Chablis was most often the “house wine” served in restaurants throughout the United States.  It got a bad rap of being the cheap and unexciting white that many (including myself) had as their wine first glass.  My impression of the beverage certainly changed after spending the afternoon checking out the picturesque vineyards and tasting this chardonnay based semi-dry wine.  The tasting itself was quite an experience as it was guided by Eric Szablowski and his wife.  The two own a company called Au Coeur Du Vin and they take groups (and individuals) through the vineyards of Chablis in their small, antique cars.  It was quite an introduction to the area and the wine which could have lasted hours more, but the temperatures in the vineyard were quite chilly and we had to go meet a Countess!

On the edge of the city, Countess Beru has a 15th century castle which is a unique mix of incredible ancient stone and modern décor in many rooms (including the bed & breakfast area she rents out).  Also in this castle is the production of Chateaude Beru wine, which makes a selection of chardonnay wines.  We enjoyed the tour  -- and the wine – as the countess told us the history of the castle.  We got to see a beautiful sunset over her vineyards before we finished our day and headed to Auberge de la Beursaudiere.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to not overuse the word “quaint” and this hotel didn’t make it any easier.  We were once again presented with museum-quality rooms before we enjoyed dinner in their restaurant.  La Plite Beursaude had a German flair, which we learned was because of the owner’s Alsace background.  This city in France is on the German border and carries the influence of both countries.  It was yet another delicious meal and our first paired without champagne, but who could complain about drinking burgundy and chablis?  Especially when you were in yet another quaint town in the wines’ namesake.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Plenty More France to Come!

My internet has been very limited as I travel through Burgundy, but I will catch up in the next few days on my tour of Troyes; Lunch and Vineyard Tasting in Chablis; Dinner & Stay at Auberge de la Beursaudiere; Guided Tour of Guedeion; a Castle Under Construction; Medieval Lunch; Tour of Vezelay; Stay at La Cote Saint Jacques and Dinner at Jean-Michel Lorain; Visit to the Castle of Ancy le Franc; and my final night -- Dinner and Stay at Bernard Loiseau!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Last Day in Champagne-Robots & Bars in the Trees

Our final day in the Champagne-Ardenne region was quite an unusual one, as we learned about and drank bubbly in the strangest places.

Our first stop was in Trėpail.  I always thought I was a multitasker, but here I met a woman who certainly outdid me.  Madam Maizieres owns a champagne house. That in itself is not unusual for a woman in 21st century France.  She decided, however, that she wanted everyone to learn about French in the most unusual way, so she created Pré en Bulles, an automated robotic show which takes you through 12 lessons (in your choice of four languages) in a fun and informative way.  At the end , there’s a puppet show with special effects George Lucas would appreciate, explaining champagne from the cultural aspect of how it relates to food and France.

After the show, Madam Maizieres took us through the beautiful apartments and bed and breakfast she rents with incredible views of the quaint town of Trėpail.  Then we tasted some of the champagnes she makes under Georges Maizières before taking off for lunch at Au Chant Des Galipes.  It was yet another leisurely champagne-filled French lunch, this one ending with the most delicious dessert of banana ice cream with pineapple and passion fruit.

As unusual as the experience in Trėpail at Pré en Bulles had been, nothing beat the uniqueness of Pershing Bar.  In the middle of Parc Arboxygene, an adventure park in the deep woods, where you can zip line and climb, its originator had decided to build something even more exciting.  Olivier Couteau worked for years to get permission from the town before meeting with an architect to design and then building Perching Bar up in the largest oak tree he could find in the forest!

Sarah from Champagne-Ardenne had told us all about this place, but it was hard to really imagine until you were there.   In order to get to Pershing Bar, you need to take three foot bridges until you have “climbed the tree.”  From there you enter this Champagne Bar, with its modern décor, that includes sitting swings.  You can sip your champagne (there’s currently a choice of four brands, all of which are partners in the bar) inside or out on the deck.  It’s a beautiful place and the only treehouse bar in the world at the moment.  Sometimes you even forget where you are – until you see the tree next to the bar (or have to go back through the bridges to go to the bathroom).

After the bar in the trees, we were off for our last night in Champagne, which meant it was our last night of endless champagne.  We enjoyed it at yet another place that was quite different from anything I had seen, Le Maison de Rhodes in Troyes.  This hotel actually belonged to the Knights Templar of the Malta in the 12th century.  It still has many Medieval touches and the rooms are each different.  We stayed the night after a wonderful dinner that included mouth-watering pumpkin soup and Beef Bourguignon.

 It was time to get some sleep before our trusted companion Anna from French Tourism would lead us into the Burgundy region.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Discovering More Champagne in Hautvillers and Epernay

Every day in the Champagne region of France brings more discoveries and more breathtaking scenery (and more delicious champagne).  Day three was split between two of Champagne’s most important towns – Hautvillers and Epernay.

We left Reims first thing in the morning under the direction of our two extremely knowledgeable guides, Sarah from Reims Tourism and Anna from Atout France.  Both managed to foresee problems before they happened and translate flawlessly for the rest of us.  The only thing they couldn’t help us out with was the weather, which continued to be unseasonably cold. 

The drive to Hautvillers (pronounced “O-va-lee”) was a scenic one and it would only get better.  The town where Dom Perignon, the monk who created champagne, once lived is about a quaint and picturesque as anything you can imagine.  Michel from the Office De Tourisme took us through this village that dates back to the year 658 and is now the home to 900 inhabitants – and nearly 70 growers of wine.  Many of these small champagne houses are set up in the village, though they only do private tours and tastings.

Throughout the tour we heard quite a bit more about Dom Perignon and his discovery of “bubbles” in the wine.  While others thought they were a mistake that needed fixing, he believed he had discovered a wonderful knew way to drink wine.  To help preserve this new found drink he brought in “corks” from Spain and continued to develop champagne for his Abby for 37 years. We toured the beautiful church which houses the grave of Dom Perignon.

After we left the center of town we drove over to one of the smaller champagne producers that have not yet made their way to the United States.  Champagne Tribaut is a family business and Madame Tribaut took as through their production and caves.  It was a cross between the old and the new as I saw my first caves via elevator rather than stars, yet there is so much of the work done by hand here.   It seemed to work as their champagne – especially the award winning Rosé -- was delicious.

We left Hautvillers in the early afternoon for Epernay, the capital of the champagne region.  This is the home to major champagne houses like Moet & Chandon (owner of Dom Perignon and maker of fine champagnes under their own label), Perrier-Jouët and Paul Roger. First, we had a delicious lunch at La Brasserie Parisienne and then we passed through all of the houses on the little train, which takes you on a tram tour through the town of Epernay.  After the tour there was champagne and chocolate waiting for sampling in the tourist office where I had a satisfyingly sweet Blanc de Blanc from G. Brunot and a drier Rose from Tornay. We also tasted some scrumptious champagne-filled chocolates from Thibaut.

There were no stops at champagne houses in Epernay because our guides had something else in mind.  A new champagne bar had opened up in town.  C-Comme Champagne is a showcase of smaller growers from all of the growing areas in the Champagne region.  You can sample one (or all) of the six featured champagnes and then buy a bottle of what you like in the store below.  There are a total of 350 different champagnes.  Both the tasting and purchasing prices are very reasonable. I loved the Trepail Blanc de Blanc and really enjoyed the Pinot Noir Brut Millesime 2004 from Rilly La Montage, but I didn’t care for the 100% Pinot Meunir Sarcy.

After checking into the charming Hotel Jean Moet, a new bed and breakfast (and it was quite a breakfast) that was full of European and antique touches and a delightfully modern shower, we had dinner at La Cave A Champagne.  It was one of my favorite meals here and it included a mouthwatering Tarte Friande de Boudin Blanc de Rethel à la Crème de Morilles (a pork pudding with morel cream sauce), perfect Coq a Vin. 

It’s hard to believe that I’m not even halfway through my journey in France.  Day four proves to be especially interesting, including a new attraction in Champagne (Pre en Bulles) and a champagne bar in a treehouse!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

From Cathedral to Krug in Reims, France

Day two in the Champagne region was a bit different from day one as I joined a group of fellow journalists and our leaders from the Champagne-Ardenne and French Tourism boards.  We have quite a schedule planned for the week as we make our way through not only this region, but Burgundy as well.  First there was a lot to see in Reims and I don’t think we missed anything.

More than 80% of Reims was destroyed in World War I, and the city suffered more destruction after some was rebuilt, but the treaty to end World War II was signed in Reims and it appeared to signal good fortune to build a final restoration of a city that dates back than 2,000 years.  As Reims gets ready to celebrate the 800th birthday of the Cathedral Notre-Dame, the building of a tram in front of it leads the way to the monument's own renovations. 

In addition to the beautiful and rather large cathedral, Reims is marked by the museum next door, Palais du Tau, which houses robes, crowns and other testaments to the many French kings who enjoyed their coronation here.   This town’s visitors included the likes of Joan of Arc and Andrew Carnegie, whose generous donation built the Bibliotheque, a library which is as classical architecturally as it is modern inside.

After touring the sights of Reims, it was off to lunch as one of the most popular restaurants in the city, Café du Palais.  The eclectic scenery included art and lively conversation, as we enjoyed a typical French lunch of bread, fois gras, cheese, ham (the most tender and sweet I’ve ever eaten), potatoes au gratin and, of course champagne.  The champagne was good, but not quite as good as what I was about to have.

It would take more than this space to explain everything I learned at Krug, but suffice it to say that I can certainly understand why this is the world’s most expensive champagne.  Krug, most especially Krug Grand Cuvee, is the culmination of a small house with a dedication to tradition and perfection.    Winemaker Julie Cavil explained the detailed process of putting together their champagne, which includes seven tasters, over 100 different wines (each plot of each vineyard is treated and considered as a wine of its own) and a total of approximately 950 tastings.

It is hard to imagine the necessity of all this detail without the full tour and tasting of the product.  Another Krug expert, Julia, took me through  the barrels, where I smelled a dozen different wines, each with a unique aroma.  We then toured the caves, much smaller than Veuve Clicquot, but just as much attention to detail is paid here.  The proof, however, is in the taste.

I enjoyed the Krug Clos du Mesnil 1998, just a bit toasty from Krug’s slightly different process of a short amount of oaking.  This is a chardonnay-only blend, called in many champagnes simply blanc-de-blanc.  The Krug Vintage 1998 was a bit sweeter and rounder with more dimension.  It is a mixture of the three champagne grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinto Meunir – the percentages of which Krug does not divulge because it is not important.  It is the end product that matters most.    The best of that end product is the Krug prize, Grand Cuvee.  It’s a wonderfully smooth blend of over a hundred different wines until perfection has been reached.

After my private Krug visit, I rejoined the group for dinner at Chateau les Crayeres.  At this elegant restaurant, which is  inside one of the most exclusive hotels in the area, we had a great formal dinner that included a chicken starter with caramelized onions and mushrooms, a duck breast with date puree and a peach dessert that was brought out so beautifully designed you couldn’t even see the ice cream between the cream that looked like white chocolate with gold speckles.  Needless to say, no one left hungry and we washed it down with a taste of the wines we would soon visit – Chablis and Burgundy.  First, however, day three would be the little village of Hautvillers and then Epernay, the capital of Champagne.   After a good nice sleep in the very modern and comfortable Hotel de la Paix.

Friday, October 15, 2010

From Champaign to Champagne-The Full Day One

It’s been awhile since I had trouble finding an internet connection, but then again I haven’t spent a lot of time in Champagne houses and private chateaus lately.  That’s what I did for my first day in France this trip.

It was a long flight on Air France from Chicago to Paris, made even longer by the fact that I had a two and a half hour drive to get to the airport.   Once I did arrive, a strike in France that affected transportation turned my journey by Rail Europe into a private limo supplied by Veuve Clicquot.  After a sleepless night (it’s never easy to sleep on a plane) I was definitely not complaining about being able to spread out in the back seat and enjoy the countryside.  I have never been to this part of France and marveled in the unique beauty of every little village we drove through.  Less than two hours later we were in the Champagne-Ardenne region and arriving in Reims

I had arrived a day earlier than the rest of the group on this trip so I could visit Veuve Clicquot, who had graciously agreed to put me up in the company’s private home, Manoir de Verzy.  First I enjoyed a tour of the facilities, a history lesson on the house and Madame Clicquot, the widow who was ahead of her time, taking over the Champagne House when her husband died young -- even though it was unheard of for a woman in the 19th century.  I was fascinated hearing about the second largest Champagne House (Moet Chandon, another member of the LVMH family is the biggest), but I was more anxious about visiting the caves.

Now I have to admit to a bit of claustrophobia combined with some allergies that had me quite nervous about spending an hour 25 meters underground in the production and storage area.  Surprisingly, it was not at all an issue.  Once I started walking through the rows of bottles, cases and individual caves dedicated to Veuve Clicquot workers who had been with the company more than 40 years, all my fears were gone and the allergy pills kicked showed in.  My guide, Katarzyna, showed me every nook and cranny, making me understand her initial statement, “Everyone who loves Champagne should come here.”

As wonderful as the caves were, we were off to Le Jardin Brasserie for lunch, where I had the most incredible meal of Pumpkin Soup, served with Brie toasted bread, followed by Osso Bucco and  Millefeuille ( layered flaky pastry filled with salted butter fudge mousse) for dessert.  With it I also had my first taste of the day of Champagne, the original Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label.  It was light and semi-dry, a perfect accompaniment to any meal.

After lunch, Katarzyna took me to Manoir de Verzy, a beautiful estate which was once the summer house to the Veuve Clicquot owners and still is home to vineyards. It is not open to the public, but certain special tours and packages do occasionally include meals there, though I can’t imagine anyone getting quite the meal I did.  I was even given my own menu, personally welcoming me.  Roselyne de Casteja, the company’s VIP Relations Manager, joined me for the paired extravaganza…

Veuve Clicquot Brut Carte Jaune

Foi Gras de Canard aux Fruits secs
Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rich 2002

Risotto aux Girolles et Gorzonzola, Reduction de Cherry
Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2004

Notre Selection de Fromages Affines
Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2004
Baba Champenois a la Mangue,
Jus de Passion ed Copeaux de Chocolate Ivoire
Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec Carafe

The food was all delicious, but the Risotto was heavenly.  As for the Champagnes, there was nothing I didn’t like, but I appreciated the Vintage Rich the most.  I was also surprised by the Demi Sec, a dessert wine that wasn’t quite as sweet as ones I’m used to thanks to the bubbles, but worked perfectly.  After a well-needed good night’s sleep, I enjoyed a croissant, cheese and fruit breakfast, explored the grounds of Manoir de Verzy and took off to join my group for a day in Reims.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

From Champaign to Champagne

I've been waiting a long time to use that title and I expected to be immediately writing all the details of my journey and first day in Champagne. Unfortunately, my internet is very limited until tomorrow so I'll just leave you with a few thoughts....

The Caves of Veuve Clicquot are a must see in this quaint town. I had a wonderful tour and then a perfectly delicious French lunch at Les Crayeres (accompanied by the light and fresh Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Champagne). I'm off to the internet-free Manoir de Verzy, the Clicquot private villa. Much more to come tomorrow. Until then,
Au revoir!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cuervo Games Rock Champaign

I’ve never had the pleasure of covering a nationally televised event that’s almost in my backyard, so when I heard that Diageo was going to bring the Cuervo Games to Champaign, there was no way I was going to miss it.  It was their first time having this event outside of a major city, and Chambana welcomed them with open arms – and bars.

This was my first experience with the Cuervo Games, but I was escorted through it with Jenna Rathke, from Taylor PR, the representatives for Jose Cuervo.  She made my trek a bit easier with a Tanqueray and tonic (Tanqueray is a sister company of Cuervo so it was one of the offerings along with the Margaritas) and we navigated our way through the apparatus.

The Cuervo Games consist of a series of athletic challenges with a tequila twist.  First, players compete against each other on the Barrel Roll, climbing the Mayan Pyramid to capture the flags.  Next is the Waterfall Climb, a 20-foot rock climbing wall that has a rushing water twist.  Then it’s on to the Highwire Harvest where trapeze skills are tested at 30-foot as the contestants try to grab as much agave (the plant tequila comes from) as they can.  Finally, it’s Margarita Madness, where teams make and carry Margaritas on their head, try to land the limes in the cup and fill the bucket.

Throughout the day and evening players and guests enjoyed $5 Margarita’s, food vendors, free Cuervo gear and a complimentary concert, featuring performances by Z-Trip, The Delta Kings and PBS.  Local bars and restaurants offered Jose Cuervo specials and the wonderfully warm night had lots of people eating on the patios so they could be near the action.  The streets of downtown were filled with spectators cheering on their favorite teams, watching the bikini-clad Cuervo girls and playing contests with host Mike Hernandez.

Fifty teams competed at the Games in downtown Champaign that started with teams from local businesses as well as Otto’s bar of DeKalb, the winner of a $2,500 donation to Hodgkin's Lymphoma (each team got to pick their own charity).   Local participants were Boltini, Cowboy Monkey, Country Market, Seven Saints, Jim Gould’s, Cakes on Walnut, Champaign Fire Department and Soma Ultralounge.

I arrived in time to see the eight finalists in the main competition.  It was down to only men (some of the teams had men and women) and they fought and tumbled their way through each section.  It was hard to tell who was going to win because it looked pretty close, but it was the Pound Regulators who ended up on the podium.

The competition is stiff at the Cuervo Games because the prize is incredible.  The winning team from each of the 15 places wins a trip to Las Vegas Halloween weekend, where they compete against each other.  Then, the Grand Prize winners get to really enjoy Jose Cuervo – with their own barrel at the Tequila’s Mexico distillery!  I’m sure that’s going to be a fun time that I just may have to check out for myself…

The next event will take place in West Palm Beach.  For more about the Cuervo Games, visit their official Facebook page.