Sipping Vino At The Northern Hemisphere’s Highest Winery And Vineyard

Terror Creek Winery and Vineyard is located in the West Elks American Viticultural Area of Colorado. The establishment gets its name from the snow-fed stream residing along the property’s edge, called Terror Creek. What makes Terror Creek really special is the fact that, at 6,400 feet, it’s the highest winery and vineyard that’s estate bottled in the northern hemisphere.

The winery sits atop the Garvin Mesa in the Rocky Mountains, allowing visitors to sip boutique vinos while having a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding landscape. It’s run by Joan Mathewson, a Swiss-trained winemaker who takes pride in the fact that she creates unique Alsatian-style wines, know for their fruit flavors and crisp acidities.

When asked how her style differs from other vintners, she responds with a smile, “I don’t know what other wineries do. I know what I do.”

Mathewson offers five varieties of wine, including a dry riesling, a full-flavored and spicy gewurztraminer, a unique chardonnay vinted without oak, a rich and fruity pinot noir and, her signature creation, chalet, a light red blend that can be served chilled. Tastings are free, and bottles start at $10.

For more information, click here.

10 best wine hotels around the world

What’s better when you’re on vacation than a day at the vineyards? How about wineries that let you stay the night, as well? No more worrying about drinking and driving or figuring out transportation as these ten wine hotels offer guests vino tastings as well as a comfortable place to sleep.

Marqués de Riscal
Elciego, Spain

Situated in the middle of the Vinos de los Herederos de Marqués de Riscal’s vineyard, the hotel itself opened in September, 2006. The building was designed by world-renowned Frank O. Gehry and combines wine-growing traditions with 21st century avant-garde design. Guests can stay in one of forty-three luxury rooms and suites that include unconventional furniture, high-quality linens, and Wi-Fi internet. After the sun sets, visitors can move from the vineyards to the informal Wine Bar or a rooftop lounge with panoramic views. Another option is to snuggle up next to the fireplace and sample the myriad vinos from the hotel’s cellar.L’Andana
Tuscany, Italy

This wine hotel is situated in the heart of the Tuscan Maremma, in the 500 hectare La Badiola Estate. Along with natural beauty, the property also contains a rich history as it was once a Medici villa where Grand Duke Leopold II and his court stayed during the summers. Guests can try some of the best wines in Italy in the accommodation’s cellar, both through tastings and through the on-site restaurant’s cooking. For those who want to do more than just sample, cooking and wine classes are also offered to L’Andana guests.

Cavas Wine Lodge
Mendoza, Argentina

Located at the foot of the Andes Mountains and nestled in a 35 acre vineyard, this 14 room lodge offers peace and tranquility in nature. Guests can enjoy private pools, terraces to watch the sunset on, and an expansive wine cellar featuring 250 of the best wines Mendoza has to offer. Wine tastings and private dinners in the cellar are musts for wine enthusiasts, as is indulging in a Signature Wine therapy treatment at the hotel’s spa.

Alluvia Stellenbosch Wine Farm
Stellenbosch, South Africa

This wine farm is set on a working wine estate in the heart of the Stellenbosch Winelands and is known for challenging traditional methods of wine making. Guests can sample some of the vineyards award-winning vinos, like their “ilka” Cabernet Sauvignon and their “lisa” Cabernet Franc, partake in wine tastings, or request to have a personal chef create the perfect gourmet South African meal and wine pairing in the privacy of their room. In terms of accommodation, there are 5 luxury suites, all named after soil types from the farm with color schemes to match, and 2 self-catering houses.

The Carneros Inn
Napa, California

Located in the famous Napa Valley, the property is nestled among 27 acres of grape vines and apple trees that seem to stretch on forever. The inn is a combination of country-style and resort-luxury, including barns, silos, and cottages with modern and comfortable interiors and amenities. Enjoy complimentary fitness runs/walks through the vineyard, peruse the wine-inspired specialty items at the on-site store, MARKET, and treat yourself to all-natural and vineyard-themed spa options, like the Chardonnay Anti-Oxidant Wine Therapy Facial or the Grape Seed and Guava Manicure and Pedicure.

L’Acadie Vineyard Cottages
Nova Scotia, Canada

Right on the side of the L’Acadie vineyards are 3 bedroom and self-catering cottages. Hand-crafted soaps, picnic tables, and private verandas give the accommodations a whimsical touch, while the surrounding landscape acts as a reminder that you are in wine country. All the wines produced at L’Acadie are certified-organic, so you can rest assured that while you enjoy the fine vinos of the winery you are not consuming chemicals. Along with touring the vineyards and sampling the products, guests should visit the property’s geothermal winery and tasting bar for a unique experience and magnificent views of the land.

Wine and Spa Resort Loisium Hotel
Langenlois, Austria

Located amongst the vineyards of Kamptal, this luxurious “floating” (it appears to be lifted off the ground) hotel offers rooms with courtyard and grape vine views. The vino immersion continues with lights in the shape of corks and hallways illuminated in shades of wine. Oenophiles will also enjoy wine and meal pairings, lounging near the fireplace in the wine library, or tastings from wine cellar. A range of spa treatments involving vineyard grapes can also be enjoyed, including an aromatic grape seed bath in a wine barrel, grape seed body peels, and grape extract facials.

Patios de Cafayate Hotel & Winespa
Cafayate, Argentina

This stunning hotel is located on 400 hectares of organic vineyard, allowing guests to completely immerse themselves in wine culture. What’s really unique about this vineyard is that they participate in “zero farming”, which consists of using organic material from the soil to farm the land and lessen the impact of harmful fertiziliers and chemicals. Visitors can participate in the hotel’s harvest program, witness the crushing of the grapes, visit the wine and barrel room, and be guided through tastings with professional winemakers. The luxury spa on site is also a must, as the treatments take advantage of the healthy polyphenols found in grapes and wine. When dining on the property, chefs pair “high-altitude” wines to match the flavors of the cuisine.

Château Les Carrasses
Langeudoc, France

This luxury self-catering estate, including 28 suites, apartments, and villas, is a 19th Century Wine Domaine in the South of France. Not only will guests enjoy private gardens, terraces with barbeques, and private heated pools, but also wine tastings, classes, and events. If you’re planning on going here in 2012, you will be able to sample the first vintage of their boutique “terroir” wines.

Owhanake Bay Estate
Aukland, New Zealand

This accommodation has a lot to offer in terms of nature, as it is not only situated on a boutique winery, but also an olive grove, berry garden, orchard, and among native trees. Guests can relax on a private deck in modern yet elegent suites while sipping from a complimentary bottle of “Melina” Flora Pinot Gris. Private tours of the vineyard and tastings are available, and there are an array of packages offered to wine-enthusiasts, such as the “Island of Wine Package”, which includes a selection of wines, tours and tastings, homemade bread and local olive oil, and dinner at a local vineyard restaurant with a Mercedes to transfer you to and from the venue.

The food and wine of Extremadura, Spain

One of the best things about traveling around Spain is trying out the various regional cuisines. Here in Extremadura, in the southwestern part of the country, the people are known for the quality of their cuisine.

First off, there are these shapely pig legs pictured on the right. Cured and ready to be cut into thin slices, this is called jamón, and is a personal favorite of mine. In a country where people are always saying their regional food is the best, a lot of people seek out Extremaduran jamón. The care and feeding of the pigs is the key.

Spaniards love their pork. While their beef steaks are only OK and their chicken dishes good but unremarkable, they seem to have devised unlimited varieties of pork products. There’s lomo (tenderloin), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (sausage with dried smoked red peppers), salchichon (Spanish salami) and a million kinds of embutido (seasoned sausage). I’m very glad I’m not vegetarian.

One surprise when visiting Extremadura was to discover my favorite cheese comes from there and only there. Torta del Casar is a soft white cheese made of sheep’s milk. It comes in a soft cake that is sliced open to reveal the gooey cheese inside. It has a creamy consistency and rich flavor, perfect to put on crackers. Extremadura produces a whole range of good cheeses, but torta del Casar is the most unique.

The region is also well-known for the quality of its paprika, called pimentón in Spanish. Not surprisingly it makes it into a lot of dishes, including cazuela, a paprika butter that’s very good on bread. Like every other region, Extremadura also has its own brands of olive oil, preserves, and sweets.

And let’s not forget the wine! One good line is Habla del Silencio, a full-bodied, slightly biting red of consistent quality. Another is Theodosius, a Tempranillo/Graciano mix named after the famous Byzantine emperor.

Every town in Extremadura has at least one shop selling local food and wine. If you’re in Mérida, check out Serraquesada on Calle José Ramón Mélida 24, close to the Roman museum, where most of the photos in the gallery were taken. This family-owned business focuses on Extremaduran products and stocks pretty much anything you could ask for. The front has rows and rows of jamón, and shelves stuffed with other food and condiments. In the back is a well-stocked bodega with a few tables so you can sit and sample Extremadura’s wonderful food and wine. Their website is still under construction but the business offers international mail order via email at

Many of Extremadura’s better-known products such as jamón and torta del Casar can be found in better shops all around the country.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Exploring Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest

Coming up next: Top five castles of Extremadura!



Exploring the Illinois wine trail

When people think about American wine, the region that comes to mind is the West Coast. And that makes sense – the majority of wine production in the United States does take place in California, Oregon and Washington. What many people don’t realize is that America is the fourth-largest wine producing country in the world, right behind the major heavyweights of France, Spain and Italy.

American wine is far more than just the West Coast. With a wide range of climates and soils, from arid to wet, rocky hills and grasslands, U.S. wineries produce a vast variety of wines from our more than one million planted acres and over three thousand commercial wineries. Napa Valley is peerless, but chances are, no matter what region of the country you’re in, there’s a wine trail or vineyard not far from you just waiting to be explored.

Illinois wine is just such an example. With a climate hospitable to wine production – some of the southern regions closely match certain climates found in Spain and Italy – there are over eighty different wineries operating in this state alone. That’s no reason to feel overwhelmed, though. This short guide will point you in the direction of a few of the ‘must-see’ wineries in Illinois. Keep reading below to see where…

Chicago and Region
Most of the Illinois’ grapes are grown downstate, but with so much of the population crowded into Chicago, there’s a huge market for wine, and a conscientious thirst for local product.

  • Glunz Family Winery and Cellars – Glunz is the main supplier of the seasonal, cold-weather wine Glogg. Most everywhere one goes in the city, if the restaurant is serving Glogg, it’s most likely from Glunz. The owner, Joe Glunz Jr., is very actively involved and has a love for Port. He’s most proud of his 1992 vintage, and he’ll happily put it up against it’s Portuguese counterparts.
  • Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery – On the far south side of the city, Wild Blossom works to produce one of the oldest beverages in the world. Mead, a specialty wine made from honey, is crafted here using the output from local beehives. Billing itself as one of the world’s most sustainable winemakers, this wine shows up on the shelves of organic retailers like Whole Foods. Wild Blossom’s “Meadery” also offers winemaking classes, supplies and tastings.
  • Vintner’s Cellar – A new trend in wine, Vintner’s Cellar is a franchise that allows the customer to craft their own personalized vintage. Using flavoring agents that simulate the aging process, customers can create as few as 24 bottles of custom wines however they like. An employee tells us that engaged couples like to create their own wines for their weddings. Locations usually have tastings as well.

Galena, Illinois
Galena is a picturesque town to the west along the Mississippi river, popular as an overnight destination for city-weary Chicagoans. Very different from the flat lands of northeastern Illinois, the Galena’s rolling hills work in the winemaker’s favor.

  • Galena Cellars Winery and Vineyard – Galena Cellars rules this region, with several locations in the area. Wine tastings at their Galena shops are common, and vineyard tours are available not far from town. Want to stumble instead of drive home? Stay in a cabin or room at the vineyard. Galena Cellars shines when it comes to sweet dessert wines, and their Choclat du Vin took home a gold medal from the Illinois State Fair.
  • Famous Fossil – In operation for only about six years now, Famous Fossil is heady when it comes to wine. Prizing what’s been termed their wine’s “somewhereness,” the husband and wife team crafting wine here want you to taste the land itself in each barrel they make. As the weather warms up, their chilled Fossil Rock White, with it’s blend of four different regional grapes, should be a perfect complement to the summer heat.

Utica, Illinois
Utica is a small town just at the edge of one of Illinois’ most beautiful state parks, Starved Rock. The former factory town would be nearly overshadowed by the husk of the industrial mill here, if not for the variety of sweet shops, antique malls, hotels and wineries catering to those visiting Starved Rock.

  • August Hill – A bit of big-city sophistication on this rustic small town’s quaint main street, August Hill’s wine shop and tasting room would look just as at home in downtown Chicago’s Gold Coast. The vintners grow their grapes on land that’s been in the family for generations, and have a passion for supporting both local artists and theater troupes as far flung as Chicago and St. Louis. Much of the art for each label is family-produced.
  • Illinois River Winery – The employees at the Illinois River Winery are so friendly they don’t seem to want to let you go. Whereas other wineries can sometimes rush, or make you feel like the tasting is all business, Bob, the tasting room manager, invites you to pull up a stool and taste as much as you like, for as long you like. For free, even. The Oktoberfest wine here is a major standout, and they have trouble keeping cases in stock, especially as autumn nears.

Shawnee Hills
Shawnee Hills is home to over a dozen Southern Illinois wineries, all within about twenty miles of one another. About fifteen minutes or so south of Carbondale, IL and the resplendent Giant City State Park, this area sees tour groups shuttling along the windy, hilly roads, especially in the summer.

  • Owl Creek Vineyard – The story behind Owl Creek is one that everyone who loves wine and wineries dreams about: a young couple, successful but unfulfilled, throw off the trappings of the corporate world and risk it all to become vintners. The owners will take the time to talk to you all about it for hours on a rainy afternoon, and, in at least one case, are happy to sacrifice one of their own towels in the event that one of your party fell into a creek while hiking in the nearby state park. The 2007 Zengeist, a crisp white, is worth owning several bottles and alone justifies every risk the couple took.
  • Starview Vineyards – In what seems to be a sprawling, white one-story cabin up against a small man made pond, Starview holds tastings, serves light cafe fare, and throws the occasional incredible party. With long rows of tables inside and a giant patio overlooking the pond outdoors, Starview likes to invite musical guests to entertain the crowds, whether it’s outdoor-heating-lamp weather or actual, natural shine. All of this is explained by the affable owner as his daughters shyly hide behind his legs. The Conchord here tastes like jam that was freshly made earlier in the day, and it may well have been. White wines are the true stars here, and they may have the best Traminette on the trail.

Grafton, Illinois
This small town is at the very edge of southwestern Illinois, where the Illinois and the Mississippi Rivers converge. Once home to a strong Native American presence, the town is now a getaway for St. Louis residents just across the river to the south. The land between the rivers to the immediate west is home to low, rolling hills filled with vineyards and fruit orchards, and is most easily accessible by ferry.

  • Piasa Winery – Piasa’s stone cottage sits at the confluence of the Grafton’s two rivers, flanked by a sunny outdoor patio and musician’s stage. Named for the mythical creature of Native American legend, Piasa has its own traditions of award-winning wines. The counter staff remembers you, even if it’s been months between visits, and keeps fans up-to-date via a Facebook page. The Piasa Blush, when cold, is incomparable as a summer wine.
  • Grafton Winery & Brewhaus – A bit further up the hill is the Grafton Winery. A full-service establishment, serving beers, food and wine, this winery boasts a view of the two rivers at sunset that’s unique to the entire Midwest. This venue doesn’t have the folksy charm that Piasa does, but it’s a well-polished operation, with the ability to cater to large parties and provide tours of the wine making facilities. In particular here, the 2003 Cabarnet Sauvignon is worth noting for it’s blend of Missouri and California grapes, and notes of cocoa, tobacco and cherry.

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Conflict bubbles over Swiss “Champagne”

The French are a particularly jealous bunch when it comes to the sparkling wine better known as Champagne. As Anna pointed out in this earlier post, European trade laws mandate that only sparkling wine from the French region of the same name can truthfully be labeled as “Champagne.” The French government has taken numerous steps to preserve their ownership of this name, going so far as to restrict the number of French vineyards that can operate within the Champagne region and filing numerous lawsuits against other wines that try to use it.

But lately, French efforts to restrict the Champagne brand name seem to be getting out of hand. As this article reports, the small Swiss town of Champagne, first named in the year 885, is fighting the French government to continue using the city’s name on its local wine. Apparently the city used to sell as many as 110,000 bottles of local wine using the town’s name, a quantity that fell to only 32,000 bottles last year when the Champagne name was removed from the label. That’s quite a difference.

While the whole naming controversy does seem a bit silly, I can understand the rationale. The French have cultivated a world famous brand and have profited handsomely from its popularity. The same is true of any other famous foodstuff, be it vodka from Russia, steaks from Argentina or oranges from Florida. But just how much of the popularity of a famous food brand is hype and how much is substance? Some will argue that nothing beats the “real thing,” but ultimately I think it’s a question that can only be answered by our stomachs. Some might scoff, but maybe a Swiss Champagne is equally as good as a French one? France, it’s time to grab a glass of bubbly and chill out.