Daily Pampering: Destination Cellars takes wine lovers behind the scenes in Napa Valley

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at the finest Napa Valley wineries? Destination Cellars, the wine club for luxury palettes, is offering its club members a “backstage pass” to meet the rock stars of the wine world.

The event is being held Sept. 23-26 and is limited to only 10 couples, so you’ll have to act fast if you’re interested. You’ll get:

  • Room at The Carneros Inn – rated the “Top Romantic Getaway” by Travel & Leisure Magazine
  • A meet and greet with Destination Cellars Estate Sommelier Sean Meyer, who will serve as your guide throughout the tour.
  • Welcome Reception at Signorello Estate, complete with Neapolitan style pizzas from the wood-fired oven.
  • Lunch and a behind the scenes tour of Vineyard 29 with Chef Sarah Heller, formerly of Bouchon and The French Laundry
  • Dinner at Ma(i)sonry, a 1904 stone manor home covered in priceless art and surrounded by the exceptional wines of Blackbird, one of the most coveted wineries in the region.
  • And so much more.

The backstage pass main event is sponsored by Hourglass Wine Company. In its sixth annual event, the company aims to raise $500,000 for the St. Helena Unified School District.

Total cost of this pampering: $6,000 per couple. A chance to taste some of the rarest wines in the region: Priceless (and delicious!)

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Don’t do mornings? Take a “Crack of noon” tour of Italy or France

Don’t you just despise fellow vacationers who leap out of bed at dawn’s first light, eager to get a start on the day’s activities? Do you hate trying to comprehend great works of art with a throbbing hangover? If your holidays often end up feeling about as relaxing as a day at the office, Executive Tours International has a solution.

The small, California-based luxury and customized travel company offered its first “Crack of Noon” tour of Italy last fall. It proved so popular, France has been added to the fall 2010 schedule.

This new take on organized tours features activities starting “after the civilized hour of noon” -ideal for those who don’t consider themselves “morning people.” Most days officially begin after 12 p.m., so travelers can choose to sleep in after a bit of late-night revelry, or have entire mornings to explore on their own. Limited to 24 guests each, “Crack of Noon Italy,” and “Crack of Noon France” allow travelers to explore each country, while giving them ample time to relax, recharge, and get some quality alone time.

The tours showcase the food and wine of each country. Italy includes Rome, Tuscany, and Venice, while France highlights Paris, Provence, and the French Riviera. Bookings close June 30th-be sure to set your alarm.

Four ways to throw an international New Year’s Eve party

After years of the same old New Year’s Eve parties, singing Auld Lang Syne, counting down at midnight and kissing as the clock strikes 12, it may be time to shake things up a bit. With some creativity, you can host an international-themed New Year’s Eve party that incorporates traditions from around the world. Here are a few ideas.

Say cheers
As you clink champagne flutes with your guests at midnight, try saying cheers in another language. Offer a “cin cin” or “a votre sante” as a toast to the New Year.

Food and drink
Branch out from the typical offerings and add some international flare to your food and beverage service. Incorporate drinks, wines or beers from around the world and serve some traditional foods from other countries. If you hang with an international crowd, ask each person to bring a food or drink from their home country.

Count it down
If you live in the US, it may be harder to pull this off, but depending on the hours of your party, you can start the night by counting down each time another timezone passes the midnight mark. If you chose a different country, countdown in the local language and toast with a native drink. Help everyone keep track of the countdowns by hanging clocks around the party space, setting them to the time in another location, and labeling them with the name of the country of city they represent.
Celebrate cultural traditions from around the world
Every country seems to have its own special way of celebrating the passing of the old year and the welcoming of the new. In Germany and Scandinavia, Herring is served on New Year’s Eve while in Denmark, people eat marzipan cake for dessert. In Greece, it’s customary to eat Vasilopita, a cake baked with a coin inside. The person who bites into the coin will have good fortune for the next year. In Mexico, Spain and Portugal, people eat 12 grapes as the clock chimes 12 times at midnight. Each grape represents one wish for the coming year.

In many cultures, wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve is said to bring love, while yellow will ensure money comes your way. In Hungary the people burn effigies known as “Jack Straw”, who represents the misfortunes of the past year. Burning the effigy is supposed to get rid of the bad luck. In several cultures, it is also believed that carrying a piece of luggage at midnight will ensure that you have many safe travels for the coming year.

Detroit’s first Restaurant Week kicks off Friday

Nearly every major city has a Restaurant Week – one week per year when dining establishments all over the city offer multi-course menus at a deep discount. Restaurants see it as a way to pull in new customers or boost sales during a slow period, while diners jump at the chance to try out new places or revisit their favorites for a smaller price.

For the first time, Detroit will be running its own Restaurant Week. It will run for 10 days, from September 18 to 27, and encompass two weekends. 17 restaurants are participating, with each offering at least three courses for $27, not including tax and tip. Some are also running drinks specials during the time. Each menu is being created specially for the event but will be consistent with the restaurant’s usual fare.

If your travel plans are taking you to the Motor City, or if you live in Detroit, you’re in for some good eating. Restaurants participating in the promotion include: Atlas Global Bistro, The Whitney, Coach Insignia, and Cuisine. A three-course dinner at the posh Whitney could easily set you back $50 per person. A feast at Coach Insignia, on the top of the Renaissance Center, would cost even more. And the others aren’t exactly diner dives – these are some of the top restaurants in the D when it comes to fine dining, so $27 for three-courses is quite a deal.

The Accidental Chef Travels: An Introduction

This post is the first installment of my culinary travel feature column, “The Accidental Chef Travels”. Come join me to discover all that’s delicious!

I think the best way to introduce myself is to begin with the basics. I grew up in an unusual family — part West Virginia hillbilly (we proudly hail from the mountainous coalfields) and part academic, since despite having a few economic and cultural cards stacked against us, the majority of my relatives as well as myself went on to receive advanced degrees, write books and teach university level courses. Go figure.

Because of this dichotomous existence, I’ve spent much of my life straddling the gray area, somewhere between cheesy grits and Chateaubriand. Yet, despite this oxymoron-esque lifestyle, one thing has remained constant — my love of worldly exploration and an inherent need to taste every last bit of it.

I still believe that the best place on earth is my grandmother’s kitchen in Princeton, West Virginia, where she, well into her upper-nineties, whipped up the best fried pies and coconut cake you’ve ever tasted. Yet, while granny’s comfort food remains unbeatable, I still spend my days infatuated with what the rest of the world has to offer.

Whether I’m noshing fresh-fried conch fritters at a roadside stand in the Turks and Caicos, nibbling blocks of Spam musubi while ogling the fresh Saturday morning produce at the Hilo Farmer’s Market or learning how to make Salade Gascogne (an explosion of poultry consisting of grilled duck breast, foie gras and duck confit) with chef/cookbook author Kate Hill in rural Southwest France, like many of you, I am compelled to taste my way across the globe, and I hope you’ll join me for this exciting and delicious ride.

It’s been said, that there are those of us who travel, and those of us who travel to eat. For gastronomes like myself, planning an entire vacation around what to eat and where is the norm. So for all of you food junkies out there, I plan to highlight an array of culinary activities such as cooking schools, food and wine immersion opportunities, food-focused resorts, cruises, even sustainable farm visits. And you can bet I won’t be leaving out off-the-beaten-track treasures such as backstreet markets, paper plate dives and mobile cart munchies. From truffle hunts to salmon fishing, I hope to bring you the best of what’s tasty and where.

I won’t be leaving out those who travel frequently for business or pleasure either, including folks who seek the very latest in restaurant news and reviews, both on the ground and in the air. For my “Mile High Dining Club” installments, I’ll cover the latest trends in taste, whether you’re kicking back in first-class or clutching your knees in coach.

For those looking to further their culinary travel education, I’ll be adding a “How-To” feature. From how to sniff and sip your way through Napa to avoiding an untimely death when eating Fugu, a Japanese pufferfish, I hope to share with you some great insider tips and tricks.

Bottom line? This column is going to fun, lots of fun, and I can’t wait for you to join me as we explore the many exciting tastes, textures and aromas that our world has to offer.