Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Day in Barcelona

On the way to Roussillon, I flew through Paris, but I was excited to have the opportunity to fly back through Barcelona. I had been to Spain before. This was my first trip, though, to this vibrant city and I’m so glad I was able to squeeze it in.

It was a short one and a half hour train ride from Perpignan in Roussillon, France, to Barcelona, Spain. I enjoyed the scenery as we went by, but I was anxious to arrive at my destination. I only had until the next morning before I was flying home.

The train station was busy, but it didn’t take me long to find a cab to my hotel, the Catalonia Plaza Cataluna. I was pleased that Wines of Roussillon had chosen this location for me as it was central to the city. It even had two things I don’t get often in Europe, a bathtub and king size bed.

I quickly freshened up and asked the concierge for my best walking route to see the city. He pointed me to La Rambla, which was just a block away. From there I was able to head to the Gothic Quarter, the Cathedral and Museu Picasso. This museum was probably the most difficult for me not to spend time in as I am a very big Picasso fan.

The trip to Barcelona felt like a preview of future adventures, but I still enjoyed it while I was there. The architecture, mostly by Antonio Gaudi, is spectacular and can be seeing in buildings throughout the city so just walking around is a learning experience.

As much as I loved the vibrant inner city, I was drawn by the open area around the pier and my long walk down to the water was certainly scenic. I was struck by the statue of Christopher Columbus and then walked further down to the water where I could see the World Trade Center and Aquarium. I stayed just long enough to watch the sun set over the pier and then strolled through the market and back to the hotel.

I would have loved to walk for hours more, but I had an appointment to meet with Manel Casanovas of the Barcelona Tourism Board at a new wine bar inside Moritz. I had walked so much during the day and was running late, so I decided to get a cab to the newly opened wine bar at this unusual location.

I immediately loved the décor of Moritz, modern European with a bit of pop art. Manel and wine bar staff took me through the large wine menu, which included everything from Napa Valley Cabernet to Catalan Moscatal. What made this place even more unique was the fact that you could choose the size of the glass of wine you wanted to taste. With wines priced from $15 to $3,000 a bottle, you could have a choice of a small “taste” of an expensive wine for the same price as a bottle of something local regardless of your budget.

It was time to drink some wine with some food of Moritz. Manel showed me how to use a porro, a carafe that you use to “drop” wine into your mouth. We then started with some Tapas before a charcuterie plate filled with sausage and meats. The cheese platter was also quite appetizing.

I was pretty full, but everyone insisted I try the Spanish version of a French favorite (fitting when you are near the border of both places), Boeuf Bourguinon, and I really enjoyed it.

I toured the brewery and banquet areas downstairs before I bid my hosts farewell. I decided to forego the cab and take in a bit more of Barcelona while I had the chance.

I got a bit lost on my way back to the hotel and I was actually glad it happened. I had wondered through some alleyways filled with revelers going in and out of the small bars, clubs and restaurants. 

Despite the fact that I was alone and there were some quieter areas, I felt safe. The only thing I didn’t feel was enough energy to continue partying into the night.

In the morning, I reluctantly left my hotel for Barcelona airport. Check in was easy and I was early for my flight. The airport gate was quite crowded and I chuckled at the site of a cervesa (beer) vending machine positioned just before passengers headed on the plane. I decided instead to settle into my seat (emergency row, but no upgrade from American) and have a glass of wine instead.

It had been a great week exploring Roussillon that had been made even better with a Spanish ending.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Traveling Abroad: 5 Essential Safety Tips

Travel Advice from our Sponsor... 
You’ve finally booked that long-awaited trip overseas, but you’re not sure what steps you should take prior to departure. As you probably know, a vacation abroad is not something that can be thrown together overnight. It takes quite a bit of planning and preparation, especially when it comes to your safety. The following tips will help ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure abroad:
Pack with a plan
Many travelers tend to make the mistake of overpacking. It’s easy to catch yourself planning for every possibility – “What if the weather gets really cold?” What if I get a wine stain on my white dress shirt?” “What if I get sick of wearing sandals?” Before you know it, you’ll have stuffed your entire wardrobe in a massive suitcase.

In the end, though, you are best served by packing as light as possible – especially when it comes to your valuables. While most people are kind, law-abiding citizens, there are a few bad apples everywhere that target tourists for theft, scams and crimes of all descriptions. For that reason, it’s best to avoid wearing high-priced jewelry, expensive clothing or other apparel that could make you stick out as a wealthy traveler. Remember, the best way to protect your stuff overseas is not to bring them with you at all.

Conceal your money, passport and documentation
Obviously, there are a number of important/valuable items you have to take along, namely your passport, credit cards and cash. These things are your lifeblood overseas, so you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to protecting them. Your money and documentation are most secure locked inside a hotel safe. When you must carry them on you, it’s best to store them in a hidden waist wallet under your clothing. Avoid purses, handbags, fanny packs and outside pockets that could be easy targets for pickpockets. Lastly, avoid drinking alcohol excessively during your trip. When your judgment and mental acuity are impaired, you are significantly more vulnerable to crime. If you do choose to indulge in a few drinks, do so in the company of fellow travelers. There’s always safety in numbers.

Don’t forget to secure your home before you leave
It’s easy to overlook the safety of your humble abode amid the mad scramble to get things ready for your excursion. However, keep in mind that your home is least secure when you’re away for an extended amount of time. Ideally, you could solicit a trusted friend, family or neighbor to keep an eye on your property while you’re gone. But this isn’t always a practical scenario. At the very minimum, you should have someone collect your newspapers and mail while you’re gone. Nothing announces “I’m out of town!” like a growing pile of the daily gazette at the end of your driveway.

Additionally, a professionally monitored alarm system is always an effective home protection tool, particularly when you’re out of town. These systems are linked to a central monitoring station, where professionals keep an eye on your home 24/7, even when nobody is home. Consult ADT or another reputable home security provider if you’re looking for more information.

Exercise caution with social media
We live in a digitally connected culture. Nowadays, people feel compelled to share everyday experiences in real time through their social media accounts. While Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are among the most influential innovations of our time, they – like any powerful tool – have the ability to be used for both good and evil.

Unfortunately, criminals have learned how to exploit social media to help them target homes for burglary. Consequently, it’s wise to avoid posting live updates about your vacation plans. An innocent tweet or status update could tip off a thief that you will be away. Instead, try to keep your vacation plans between you and a few trusted friends and family members.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Full Last Day of Tasting Roussillon

Eric Aracil, Export Manager, Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon, was there to greet me first thing in the morning at Hotel Metropole in Perpignan. It was my last day in this wine region and we had lots of wine to taste.

It was another scenic drive as I once again saw the diversity in the soil of this area between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. We were actually heading closer to the mountains into the driest area in Roussillon.

Our first stop was at Domaine La Casenove in Trouillas, where the Montes family and winemaker Jean-Luc Colombo had managed to make wine from a land filled with clay and pebbles. They had a lot of practice in doing so as this family had been here for more than 400 years.

I liked the selection of wines at Domaine La Casenove, which included dry reds like syrah and the sweeter muscat. The Muscat de Rivesaltes is dessert wine perfected, with notes of honey, apricot and kiwi.

Our ride to Domaine de Nidoleres was as scenic as the previous. I could believe the beauty of the Pyrenees Mountains from every angle.  The soil changed once again. In some areas it looked like there were vines coming straight out of rocks!

I fell for this place immediately, from the warm-hearted winemaker Pierre Escudié and his wife/partner/chef. They have Guest Houses (with hot tubs and a sauna) here as well as a restaurant, where we were to have lunch.  It seemed like the perfect place for a romantic getaway – especially with the winery.Dom

The meal started with a perfect salad made with Small mushroom soufflés served with butternut squash and mashed potatoes was a great option, especially with the 2008 Domaine de Nidoleres Grenache Blanc, filled with lemon and green apple.

I enjoyed the selection of French cheeses at the end of the meal, served with a Domaine de Nidoleres Late Harvest Vinya Blanca. I wish I had more time to stay and chat with the Escudiés, as well as see more of the property, but we had yet another winery to go to, Domaine Montana in Banyuls des Aspres.

The winery was old and beautiful.  From the ancient bricks to the newer stainless tanks and barrel room, they had it all covered.  They also had a museum which explored French wine, especially in this area. It was fun to walk through it and see all the antiques explaining how wine (and winemaking) had changed.

Before we left, Eric and I did some tasting of the Chateau Montana wines.  My favorite was La Rouge Eternal, a mix of syrah, carignan and grenache that produced a wine filled with fresh ripe fruit and a touch of cinnamon.

I had a short time to change for dinner when back at the hotel before Eric Aracil returned to pick me up for a very special final meal.

Le Clos des Lys had the understated elegance that I prefer in fine dining.  We were meeting Georges Puig of Domaine Puig Parahy for dinner. I knew he was bringing wine, but I had no idea just how special this tasting would be.

It seems the wines of Puig Parahy include a rare collection of old wines. With our meal we would be tasting aged muscat wines that were more than 100 years old – and worth thousands of dollars.

Though we started with a light and citrusy 2009 Muscat Sec, we proceeded to the older wines as the meal moved along.

I really didn’t think there would be such a difference in these wines, but each bottle had its own individuality, though they all bore resemblance to that unique taste of chestnut barreling.  

It’s hard to narrow down my favorites, but the 1977 had a fantastic combination of cocoa, fig, walnut and coffee, while the 1962 brought in a bit of sweet baked apple even though the nose was not as strong.  In the 2001, I found a lighter taste, with a mix of raspberry and cinnamon. That wine had another notable component – it was harvested on September 11, 2001.

The wines got older as the evening went on, from a rich 1936 to a spectacular 1910, bringing in notes of nutty caramel and coffee.  We stopped at the 1890 which was tasty and cognac-like.

The food at Le Clos des Les was as memorable as the wine. The plateful of hors d'oeuvres that started dinner was a meal in itself. I was glad the dishes were small since there were so many, such as the pumpkin mousse, served in a shot glass. I also thoroughly enjoyed the pork in cream sauce with artichoke and a hash brown cake.

The final dish was wild boar, served in a filet and cubed in a great sauce. I like the accompaniment of apples served with it for an added sugar and spice.  Chef Jean-Claude Vila had prepared this meal just for us and he had certainly done quite a job.

The chocolate fudge cake was as delectable as it looked and the passion fruit glace was a good accompaniment.

On the way out, I couldn’t help but notice the beautifully decorated cakes and collection of macaroons. As appealing as they looked, I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. It was time for Eric to drop my off at my hotel for my final night’s sleep in Roussillon. I had discovered another wine region I hope to return to someday soon. In the meantime, I was off to Barcelona for a short visit before I head home.