10 best wine hotels around the world

marques de riscal wine hotel 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 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.

wine hotel 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 hotel 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.

wine hotelsChâteau 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.

Wine, food, and partying at Cornucopia in Whistler, Canada

whistler cornucopia eventFrom November 10-13, 2011, Cornucopia, a four day and night food and wine festival, will take place in Whistler, Canada. The event caters to both amateur enthusiasts as well as experts with seminars, tastings, and culinary programs that allow attendees to gain insight and knowledge.

In addition to educating the palate, Cornucopia will also be hosting an array of parties including:

  • Araxi’s Bubbles and Oceans– Enjoy seafood, champagne, and sparkling wine from 20 of the world’s top producers.
  • Bearfoot Bistro’s Masquerave– Proceeds for this event, which showcases the creations of top chefs from British Columbia, go to help ONE DROP, a foundation that helps give people from foreign countries access to clean water and sanitation where it is needed. International DJs, burlesque dancers, circus art performances, and models covered in winery-inspired body paintings will also be featured at the event.
  • House Party– This BBQ features local breweries, wineries, and cuisine, as well as live music.
  • CRUSH– A 2-night tasting event featuring more than 60 wineries from around the world. Book signings and tips will also be given by wine writer Natalie MacLean, author of “Unquenchable: A Tispy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Bottles”.
  • Casino Royale– This Vegas-style party will feature showgirls, circus performers, DJs, drinks, and a casino.
  • Top Gun…a Tribute– Burlesque dancers will perform a tribute to the 25th anniversary of the movie release “Top Gun” and the 30th anniversary of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery. Tickets include a complimentary coat check and a glass of Tribute champagne.

For more information on the event and tickets, click here.

Dropping the F-bomb: why “foodie” needs to go away

foodieLife used to be so easy. You ate to live. Then, man discovered fire and realized mastodon tastes a lot better with a nice sear on it. Around 500,000 years later, Homo foodieus evolved, and now it’s impossible to go out to eat without camera flashes going off at the tables around you.

Mercifully, there’s a Foodie Backlash taking root in America, and I feel the time is ripe (Did you see how I tossed two food puns into that sentence? Annoying, isn’t it?) to go public with my loathing for this odious word and the obnoxious behavior that too often goes with it.

I realize I’m setting myself up here. I’m a food journalist. Don’t I perpetuate all of this silliness, getting readers in a lather over the Next Big Food Thing? Don’t I eat at nice restaurants and drink expensive wine? Well, yes. And, no (and to that latter hypothetical question, less often that you’d think in this economy).

I like to think that through (most of) my work, I promote importance of understanding where food comes from, and urging localized food security. I’m concerned about protecting the environment, public health, and genetic diversity in plants and livestock; conserving natural resources, and finding more humane ways to raise and slaughter livestock.

Does that make me the culinary equivalent of Mother Theresa, or absolve me of my written transgressions that are less pure in culinary intent? Hell no; I can be a hedonist, too. But I’m trying to make a point here. I realize that my bordering-on-obsessive hatred of “foodie” is really about the culture it’s perpetuating. That said, the word itself is infantile, idiotic, and meaningless, and makes me want to poke my eyes out with a larding needle. Can’t people just say they love food?

My biggest issue with foodie as a concept is that it’s detrimental to the remarkable, burgeoning food culture we’ve finally achieved in the United States. In a mere 100 years, we went from agrarian society to culinary wasteland to possessing identifiable food regions. We established a world-class artisan food, sustainable agriculture, and fine dining scene in certain parts of the country.

What went wrong? We paid $200 (for a bottle of estate olive oil), and instead of passing “Go,” we became a cult of food elitists. It’s the antithesis of why many of us got into the food business in the first place. Yes, care about what you eat, but food shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement attached to it.

Do you really need to be on a first name basis with the person who sells you fava beans? It’s a wonderful thing to develop a relationship with local growers but the posturing and farmer name-dropping one-upmanship I’ve witnessed while working at farmers markets in recent years is over the top. Real supporters of sustainable agriculture–of real food–don’t go trolling for discounts or freebies, because they understand just how hard farmers work for a living.

In a perfect world, everyone should have access to fresh, wholesome, local, delicious food, especially children. Thanks to the good work of organizations like the Chez Panisse Foundation and the increasing number of school lunch programs, community gardens, and other food security initiatives across the country, this isn’t an impossible goal for Americans to achieve, nor is tackling our obesity epidemic in a one-two punch.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to spend disposable income, if you have it, on costly ingredients or dining out. But the fetishizing of food, the pissing contest that is the hallmark of the archetypal foodie is what I cannot abide. This is what’s at the heart of foodieism; the need to belong to a special club, with a language all its own. In our status-obsessed society, we need to separate ourselves from the plebes who think that the Olive Garden is serving “Italian” food.

Eating well (not necessarily synonymous with eating “expensively”) is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and cooking for other people and joining them at the table sustains us in ways that go beyond filling our stomachs. Every food lover (see? doesn’t sound so bad, does it?) has a deep, fundamental reason for why they’re so moved by the act of eating.

For me, it’s the cultural aspects of food, its intrinsic relationship to travel, as well as the people who grow, forage, raise, catch, and make food on a small, sustainable scale that I find captivating. These are things that I was fortunate enough to experience in childhood, and they made an indelible impression on me, as well as fostered my culinary career.

Good food–be it a ripe peach, a great street taco, or a lavish, multi-course meal–brings me joy. For what it’s worth, however, my parents aren’t “food people.” I grew up on a ranch, but I also ate a lot of frozen vegetables and TV dinners, because my mom had two kids to raise, dislikes cooking, and for her, the ’70’s with its advent of guiltless convenience foods was a godsend.

There’s also the bad manners perpetuated by foodie culture. On what planet is it okay to “just pop into the kitchen” during a packed dinner service to talk to the chef…especially when s/he’s a total stranger? Yet my boyfriend and I witnessed this scenario, while dining at a certain famous restaurant.

After three hours of listening to the ten-top beside us discourse on the merits of Brittany sea salt purchased at the source versus approximately 12 other kinds of hand-harvested salt, we were ready to clobber them. Look, if you want to spend your money on that shit and then have a debate about it, that’s your perogative. Just don’t hold a small, intimate restaurant as captive audience. Few things are more deadly boring than foodies in a feeding frenzy.

We watched their lengthy progression of courses congeal and grow cold as they scurried around the table snapping food porn. At meal’s end, the ringleader hopped up and made her foray into the kitchen. And, because it was a small, intimate restaurant and my boyfriend and I were seated nearby, we heard the following words come out of the mouth of the extremely irate sous chef who blocked her path: “Lady, we’re in the middle of fucking service. Get the hell out of here!”

Cue applause meter.
Foodies should also remember that while home cooking, traveling, and dining out most certainly give you an education about food, they don’t, in most cases, make you an expert. Yelp serves a purpose, to be sure, but it’s often a means of settling a score or self-promoting. Or, in the case of food blog reviews written by foodies (as opposed to, say, writers with actual journalism and culinary credentials, both) a way to say, “I’m a food writer too!” One food blogger I stumbled across while researching this story had written on a recent post, “I think [foodie] is a very serious title. It’s like calling yourself a writer or an artist. It means you have to have the knowledge, talent and experience to back it up.”

Um, please get over yourself. Knowing about food, winning a Pulitzer, being the greatest chef on earth…at the end of the day, it’s just effing food. Not the cure for cancer or achieving world peace.

I think esteemed food writer and author Amanda Hesser said it best when she was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article last year: “Having more people interested in good food is never a bad thing,” she said, but what she can’t abide is eating dinner with people who “only want to talk about food and every place where they ate, like, doughnuts or something, and where the best doughnuts are secretly found. Knowing a lot about food culture is a good thing. That cataloguing of food experience is becoming tiresome. I’m pro-food experts. I’m just not so sure I want to have dinner with them or have them judge me on the coffee I drink.”


[Photo credits: mushroom cloud, Flickr user Juampe López, poster, Flicker user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]

Wine tasting on a budget with new Wine Walk in Carmel-by-the-Sea

wine tasting in california wine country Wine tasting has never been so convenient, or inexpensive! While most people know that California is a premier destination for those looking to sample some of world’s best vino, wine tours can often get a bit pricey. That is why Carmel-by-the-Sea’s new self-guided Wine Walk is a perfect option.

Encompassed within a few blocks of this coastal California village are 13 different wine tasting rooms. Begin at Southern Latitude Wines on Ocean Avenue to sample specialties from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America, then pass City Hall and turn onto 7th Avenue to La Bicyclette for some rustic European cuisine with your wine flights. Next door at Galante Vineyards you will have the chance to sample local estate-grown wines from the first tasting room in Carmel. As you continue on this self-guided stroll, you will not only be exposed to delicious vino, but also art and specialty foods, including cheese and olive oil tastings.

To download a complete map of the walk, click here.

Five fantastic (and mostly budget-friendly) Chilean wines available in the U.S.

chilean winesChilean wine–if given any thought at all–has historically been considered cheap plonk; the Gallo of the Southern Hemisphere.

Those days are over, baby. In recent years, Chile has become a contender with the wines of the more well-known Mendoza Valley in Argentina, just a very high-altitude hop over the Andes.

The central Chilean wine regions of Maipo, Colchagua, Casablanca, San Antonio, and Aconcagua Valleys (and their various sub-regions) are blessed with a Mediterranean climate; rolling hills; a lack of crowds and attitude; amazing diversity of varietals; affordable wines, and refreshing coastal breezes or stunning views of the nearby Andes. You’re not going to find all of that in Napa.

While in Chile last month, I visited a number of wineries in the above regions, and I was impressed by the quality of the wines. Modern Chilean winemakers are young, progressive, and well-trained, often in Europe or the U.S..

Below are five of my favorites, all of which are available here in the States. If you can’t find them at your local wine shop, they can be ordered online through your favorite retailer or via New York-based Puro Wines–the world’s first dedicated Chilean wine store.

All of the following wineries have tasting rooms open to the public; quoted prices are in U.S. dollars and may vary depending upon retailer.

1. Emiliana Organic Vineyards Eco-Balance Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Bio Bio Valley
This forward-thinking family vineyard practices organic and biodynamic farming, relying upon their resident sheep, alpacas, and poultry to do the weeding and fertilizing, but more modern sustainable business practices and employee-incentive programs are also at work. The Sauvignon Blanc is loaded with nectarine, white peach, and tropical fruit without being cloying or heavy. The 2010 is a steal at $8.99-$10.95; look for the ’11 coming soon.chilean wines2. Matetic Vineyards EQ Syrah 2007, Rosario Valley
This rural vineyard with a luxe, seven-room guest hacienda is in a sub-region of the San Antonio Valley. The Syrah is lush and velvety, with a blackberry nose and notes of leather and spice. At $35.00, one of the more pricey selections, but worth it.

3. Viña Undurraga T.H. Syrah 2009, Leyda Valley
Located in the heart of the Maipo Valley, this historic, 120-year-old family winery was founded by Don Francisco Undurraga, one of the pioneers of Chile’s wine industry. Cooling coastal fog cloaks the vines that yield this jammy Syrah, which features a hint of spice and vanilla; $29.00. If you happen to visit the winery, do not miss out on their Pinot Noir sparkling rosé ($14.99, but not currently available in the U.S.).

4. Viña San Esteban In Situ Gran Reserva Carmenère 2008, Aconcagua Valley
Located in the charming village of Los Andes, this small, friendly, high-altitude winery lies in the Andean foothills, an hour from Santiago. A short walk past the tasting room will take you to rocks bearing Incan and native Mapuche petroglyphs hundreds of years old. In Situ is their premium line; Carmenère, a member of the Cabernet family of grapes, is the signature varietal of Chile. Intense, full-bodied, and almost chewy, with dominant flavors of blackcurrant and tobacco; $16.00

5. Viña Indómita, Duette Chardonnay 2009, Casablanca Valley
This blindingly white winery sits grandly atop a hillside in the Casablanca Valley, 24 miles from Valparaiso and 54 from Santiago, respectively. You can tour the cellar, then hit the elegant restaurant post-tasting room. This Chardonnay has unexpected, intense pineapple overtones and is creamy on the palate with a refreshing finish; $19.99.

My trip was sponsored by Wines of Chile, but the opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

The Icon Wines of Chile with Michael Green at Gourmet Magazine